Monday, September 24, 2012

OECTA's letter to teachers less than truthful

OECTA in support of locked out Caterpillar workers
This September Catholic teachers received a letter from their President, Kevin O'Dwyer emplaning why OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, had signed a contract with the Liberal government. The letter tries hard to convince the teachers that the negotiating team did their best to "lessen the damage to our members."

Here's the deal: the new agreement calls for three unpaid days for all teachers in year two of the contract; teachers who have not reached the highest level on the pay scale will continue to get increases for each year; during the three unpaid days teachers will stay home; teachers get ten paid sick days, and another 120 paid days at 90% salary for a longer illness; teachers and boards get to choose using "professional judgement" as to "which assessment or evaluation tools already approved by the board they will administer and to which students", and the consideration of experience when boards hire long term occasional teachers. Bottom line: teachers, with the exception of reducing the paid sick days to ten, didn't lose very much. It's mostly business as usual.

OECTA and other teacher unions talk about putting student welfare and learning first, but by their actions and their own admission this is not the whole truth. The letter says the union will "make the right choices to protect members' interests to the greatest extent possible in these difficult times". Now, let's make it clear that nobody is saying that teachers don't perform an important job in our society and for that they should be well paid. However, the facts speak for themselves; teachers, as do most government employees, do receive a good salary. Currently teachers, once they reach the top of the pay grid in this province, can earn close to $100,000 a year. But the union ought to be more trasnsparent and not put politics and profits ahead of students and parents.

In his message, O'Dwyer never mentions by name the current Liberal government because it's now viewed as the union's enemy. Why? The government proposed and passed the legislation Putting Students First Act that will freeze teachers' wages. So, the union president's letter is really a rhetorical attempt to rationalize to the membership the "smart" decision made to sign a contract (Memorandum of Understanding) before the government took this action. But O'Dwyer omits to tell Catholic teachers in this province what is most revealing: OECTA supported during the last provincial election the same Liberals they now criticize. OECTA fully backed the Liberal's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy and Bill 13, even though these policies contradict denominational rights and Catholic teaching. The reason? Ontario teachers got all-day kindergarten and a government that listened to their contract needs. OECTA even told its members to avoid voting for a government that would bring back the horrible Conservative Mike Harris days or the no pay stay at home NDP Bob Ray days. Yes, teachers were told to watch out for the bad, hungry wolf.

Mr. O'Dwyer there's no use crying wolf to your members and the tax payers of this province. If as you claim there's "the backdrop of conflict in Ontario's educational sector", and that your bargaining team managed "to mitigate the most extortionate of the government's demands", a little honesty would help here: OECTA helped to create the present situation by putting salaries and benefits ahead of everything else that counts in Catholic education. OECTA chose not to morally protect students from the equity policy and not to inform parents, and the union, instead, abandoned Catholic teaching found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it comes to the LGTB issues and sided with the government. OECTA has refused to back denominational rights to defend religious freedom; more recently, it has permitted teachers to cancel exracurricular activities and skip meet the teacher evenings. Well, you now the saying: You may your bed, now lie in it.

This business and profits approach to governance doesn't build goodwill and community support. In short, OECTA has lost credibility. We have heard from many teachers that like school principals they too would like to leave the union because it no longer represents them, but they have no legal choice but to pay the $1000 annual dues in order to teach. Why not put this choice to a membership vote at your next annual general meeting? Given the position taken by OECTA on equity education, Ontario Bishops should have the word Catholic removed from the union's name. You surely know that nobody can serve two masters and be loyal to both. OECTA needs to reclaim the higher ground or risk moral bankruptcy as Catholic union leadership leads mostly nowhere except to bank accounts. The letter reminds us of Hamlet's mother's words: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." We hope and pray that OECTA will reconsider its strategy for the sake of Catholic education and the souls of the students of this province.

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