Ontario report shows why unions are necessary

Every so often I find myself in a conversation with someone who wonders if unions are still needed in Canada today.

Today we have laws to protect workers, they’ll say. There’s no more child labour; we get paid extra for overtime; employers can’t discriminate based on race, sex or anything else; employees are required to get breaks; etc. Why bother paying dues to a union?

A report last week from a panel that examined Ontario’s labour laws shows exactly why.

Fast food worker
There’s a good chance this worker has seen some violations of labour law.

Continue reading Ontario report shows why unions are necessary

More co-op programs in schools? Context is important

Some quick thoughts today from a guest: Doug Nesbitt. Doug is a PhD student in labour history at Queen’s University in Kingston and an editor of RankandFile.ca, a site dedicated to “Canadian labour news and analysis from a critical perspective.”

Doug posted the following as a Facebook comment on this story from the Hamilton Spectator. The story reports on a “panel of business and education experts” in Ontario which recommends that all P-12 students participate in co-op work programs in high school. Continue reading More co-op programs in schools? Context is important

There is no substitute for solidarity

Teachers in Ontario found reason to celebrate recently.

In 2012, the Ontario Liberal government passed the “Putting Students First Act,” a bill which imposed contracts on teachers and effectively took away their right to strike.

This April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this act (also known as Bill 115), had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Teachers, like other workers, are guaranteed the right to negotiate the terms of their work collectively and to have these negotiations be meaningful. Bill 115 had made this impossible.

gavel

Teachers and many other public-sector workers across the country welcomed the ruling, seeing it as a precedent which protects against current or future governments trying the same kind of legislative trick.

But is it? Continue reading There is no substitute for solidarity

Teachers and the fight for 15

Three public school teachers wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star last week on their support for the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign.

The campaign centres on raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour and securing basic benefits like paid sick days for all workers.

NS Fair Wage hi-res
Members of the Fair Wage Coalition protested for better wages outside McDonald’s on Spring Garden Road in Halifax on Friday, April 15th. (photo: David Etherington)

The teachers (Kate Curtis, Jason Kunin and Seth Bernstein) drew connections between the challenges they see some kids facing in their classrooms and the precarious, low-wage work available to those kids’ family members. Continue reading Teachers and the fight for 15

Who should be the next president of the NSTU?

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union will elect a new president later this spring. Six candidates are attempting to replace Shelley Morse, who is completing her second two-year term in office. (NSTU rules state that no president can serve for more than four years.)

What should members be looking for in a leader?

NSTU Labour Day

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on what I think is important for members to consider when making their ballot choice on May 25th.  Continue reading Who should be the next president of the NSTU?

Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

One of the best parts of being a teacher is when students let you know they appreciate the work you do.

It happens more than you might think. Despite the common, timeless sentiment that kids-today-ain’t-got-no-respect, students do express their appreciation in lots of ways: a thank-you in passing, a question that shows interest in what they’re learning, a compliment delivered via a parent at parent-teacher, the occasional goodie or card at holiday time.

Any teacher will tell you that appreciation coming from the kids is a great motivator. But it’d be nice if we also got it from the government that employs us.

Along with other public employees, teachers in Nova Scotia recently had our wages frozen for two years, and retirement benefits rolled back, through legislation by the provincial Liberal government.

Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th.
Teachers and other public-sector workers rally at the provincial legislature on December 16th. (Source: Facebook)

A few weeks before, negotiators from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union had actually worked out a tentative new contract with the government, one that even included the same wage freeze (with below-inflation raises in the following two years). Continue reading Nova Scotia can afford to respect its public-sector workers

A tax credit for teachers is no solution

This post is also published at rankandfile.ca

It was sad this week to see Justin Trudeau’s promise to give teachers a tax credit for purchasing their own classroom supplies.

Not because it means teachers buying their own supplies is a new phenomenon, or has necessarily worsened. Teachers have always filled in gaps in K-12 education funding, sometimes to the tune of several hundred dollars a year, especially in the early years of their careers.

Rather, it’s because it legitimizes the notion that teachers should be spending money out of pocket to do our jobs.

school supplies

A fanciful comparison: what if we gave nurses a tax credit if they bought their own medical supplies, or paramedics tax incentives if they paid to get the oil changed on their ambulances?

Parties (but especially the Conservatives) are often criticized for their use of “boutique” tax credits. They tend to be targeted toward their own likely voters, and at their most cynical are unrolled right around election time.

More to the point, though, the tax-creditization-of-everything removes more and more responsibility from governments to actually provide public services.

I do know some teachers who were happy about Trudeau’s announcement, and I understand why. They’re happy someone acknowledged that so many teachers spend their own money on everything from classroom art supplies to bus fare for field trips.

But have we undervalued ourselves and our work so much that we’re happy about getting back 15 cents for every dollar we spend, for things our employers should be paying for?

As teachers we should be fighting for the funding that allows us to give our kids the education they deserve. That means smaller classes, adequate supports for kids with special needs, and the necessary tools to do our jobs.

Yes, I’m aware that education is under provincial jurisdiction. But the squeeze on education budgets at the provincial level is partly the result of the federal Liberals’ deep austerity cuts to health and education transfers in the 1990s. These cuts downloaded costs onto the provinces who responded by reducing spending on public services like education.

In this context, tax credits that encourage us to keep subsidizing our own workplaces aren’t helpful.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers