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Is McGuinty being unfair to teachers?

Welcome to the Toronto Star editorial board’s weekly podcast. The board is responsible for the editorials that appear every day in the Star, and every day we have a lively discussion on what to write about, and what to say. The podcast gives us a chance to share some of those debates with Star readers.

Today we’ll be talking about the Ontario Liberal government's attempt to freeze teacher wages, as well as Augusta National Golf Club's decision to allow female members for the first time.

Jordan Himelfarb, an opinion editor, is joined by editorial board members Kerry Gillespie and Leslie Papp.

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Kerry seems to think the Province has bargained in good faith and the teachers who haven't signed on should be forced to now. I've been teaching for 26 years and I have never seen a contract signed before a current one expires. This contract expires August 31. Past experience would lead one to expect a contract some time within the current school year. OSSTF offered a wage freeze months ago and the Province refused to even acknowledge it. In fact, I've only once seen this fact reported in the media, never in the Star as far as I've seen. As well, the Province and the media have reported that teachers as a whole will get a 5.5% increase if there is no new contract. This is not true...only those who would get increases according to a salary grid would get raises without a new contract, a minority of teachers. I also wonder why Kerry believes that there will be no disruption of the school year if the province forces this contract through. Why would teachers volunteer their services for extracurricular activities if the province sees fit disrespect teachers' rights. This and a legal challenge would be the only possible responses other than just taking this abuse.

Kerry says there were a lot of strikes in the Harris days. This is not true, if she means a withdrawal of services. There was a two week political strike, unrelated to teachers' wages, in '97. Toronto high school teachers have not been on strike since the mid-70s. Kerry repeats what is supposedly common knowledge when she says teachers go on strike a lot, but the facts do not support this.

Finally, Kerry should do more research on the issue of wages. While teachers have had a 3% cost of living raise for the past 7-8 years, they received no wage increase for 7 years under Harris. Too bad she can't be better informed when she takes a stand against teachers.

Why do teachers expect to get annual salary increases that are higher than most working people in the province? I'm so tired or hearing about how tough they have it when everyone else is struggling to make ends meet. They've got amazing job security, summers off and salaries that are higher than the average. If it's so awful being a teacher than why are there so many people looking for work as teachers? Time to freeze wages and help out in these difficult times.

If the government see fit to legislate wage controls for AirCanada, teachers and other civilian workers then why not profit controls? Corporations have been givin the same rights as people thus they should also be told how much profit they are allowed. You say we can't do this as they will move thier businesses, legislate that they can't if you think draconian laws are ok to be forced on people then why not corporations including banks. If the pain is to be shared it should be shared by all.

The biggest problem is the misrepresentation of Teachers in the Media, specifically by statements that Laurel Broten has made. She has consistently insinuated that teachers were planning a strike for September 4th, which is completely false as teachers are not in a legal strike position to begin with. The numbers that are being presented are also inflated, as they appear as though teachers are due to receive 5.5% wage increase this fall, but that is actually over 2 years (which represents inflation). The fact is, from the beginning of negotiations, McGuinty has presented a "my way or the highway way" approach. Negotiations could not happen, with the threat that if his terms were not met, they would be legislated (that is not a negotiation, it is a bullying). If the Liberals had not been so heavy handed to begin with, this entire crisis could have been averted. Negotiations are about compromise by both parties. In the media releases, there have been repeated mentions of teachers taking a two year pause, which in and of itself does not seem that bad. However, the word "pause" denotes that everything is frozen as it stands and will at a future date resume, unaltered. Does 1.5% decrease in pay, a forced restructuring of the pay grid, and a drastic loss of sick days and gratuities for those who have them sound like an unaltered pause? I definitely do not think so. On top of all of this, is the use of language that is deceptive. The "Putting Students First Act" has nothing at all to do with students. There is not even a mention of students within the draft, it is all about money, stripping of rights and alterations to the Education Act. Mr. McGuinty, why don't you and all of the other MPPs give up your severance allowances (Gratuities), take a 1.5% decrease in pay and go to work sick along with the teachers, so that we can clean up the deficit that you lead the province to. I am sure that the $313,461.00 that McGuinty alone has banked could put a slight dent into the the deficit.

Many employees are getting wage increases in Ontario. Why are teachers being singled out for wage freezes and cutbacks to benefits ?

July: Ottawa city employees get 3.84% increase
July: Crown lawyers get 15.25% increase
June: U of T faculty wins overall 7.14% increase
April: Power workers gain 2.75% annually
April: York U workers achieve 2% gain per year
April: City of Toronto workers get raises

Yes, I think McGuinty is being unfair to teachers. These are legal agreements. If he wants to change them, he should wait until they expire. Internationally we are seeing governments red pencil legal documents when it doesn't suit their needs. Does that mean governments are not confined by the law?

It does'nt go far enough, there should be rollbacks not freezes and the legislation should be enshrined in the notwithstanding clause therefore protecting it from judicial scrutiny.

Thank you Peter for trying to get the word out on what teachers are most frustrated about. We do not object to salary freezes necessarily. There are many other issues, in fact more serious issues on the table here. Perhaps Mr. Mcguinty and his government need to look at where money has been grossly misspent in education. Provincial testing alone costs the province close to 35 million dollars annually. The Drummond report identified student success as an area for downsizing. Money has been spent extravagantly on far too many new initiatives that cannot be effectively implemented and on in effective practices in special education. What frustrates me the most is that this government refuses to look at their own mismanagement and cut waste there. In combination with some concessions on teachers parts, taking responsibility and cutting costs where the money has really been mispent would be a much more reasonable choice. Granted with important bi-elections on the horizon, this may not be politically on the Government's part. Peter makes an interesting point about the media coverage of this issue lacking factual information about what teachers really object to.

The Liberal Government has made significant errors in potential contract breaches, most recently with the cancellation/moving of a gas-powered energy plant. This has cost Ontario citizens a minimum of $100 million. It's easy to pick on teachers as "Harris-Light" Tim Hudak would like to do. Teachers have been a target for those who believe they do little more than baby-sit their children while they are at work and therefore complain that they have to find things for their children to do while during their Summer holidays.
Teachers work hard for their income and most have a minimum of a 4-year degree plus a year at a Faculty of Education receiving their license to teach in Ontario. Are there places where local district boards of education and the Province could save money without affecting the classroom in a negative manner? Absolutely! The TDSB is currently reviewing its waste of money spent on a "closed-tendering" of maintenance services. Hundreds of dollars spent on repairing a light switch. Remeber, this is only what has been reported!
Finally, OSSTF made their policies regarding a pay freeze as part of their compromise to the Province's fiscal issue. It also offered the Province a plan to save close to 1 Trillion dollars if the Province amalgamated the Catholic boards with the secular Public boards.

I work for the City of Toronto and my union just had to accept a bunch of concessions. Sign of the times for every union in Canada.

Unions are in a time of major concessions...we gotta all lump it...we no longer have public support.

I just don't see why teachers alone need to cure the government's fiscal problems. This artificial crisis, a la Snobelen, is so unnecessary. It's so transparent what McGuinty is up to - not to mention shocking. At least Hudak's view is a little more equitable, eyeing the entire public service - which is silly too. A couple things though; teachers are not threatening to strike, and it's total garbage that teachers will automatically get an automatic 5.5% pay raise. Why is nobody following up on this propaganda? The biggest loser though is the NDP. Very disappointing.

I have been on a variety of web sites reading comments from the sublime to the ridiculous. I am amazed at the amount of unbridled hate there seems exists against teachers. Is it just there so many unfulfilled lives that envy has turned to anger, Lets light the torches and storm the castle. There is a line from a movie that rings true" I can always count one half of the poor to kill the other half ".We have a very good school system that provides as excellent education for the students. Is it perfect no, is it changing yes, is it better than 20 years ago definitely. The average person that is criticizing the teachers are clueless to what the teacher actually do
So if you think the teachers are overpaid there is nothing stopping you from becoming a teacher and joining the so called gravy train. Or is it that you have made so many poor choices with your life that all that is left to you is to spew bile from the safety of your computer.
Did you get a D in auto shop By the way I am not a teacher
A question that should be asked what was promised to the catholic boards that made them sign while all there teachers where out on holiday.

First and foremost, anyone who is sick of hearing teachers complain about how tough we have it don't really know anything about the profession. Yes, we may get summers off, big deal, some of us still work those two months of the year to make ends meet, especially new teachers. As a first year teacher I think what the government is trying to do is disgusting. Aspiring teachers spend $50,000 - $60,000 dollars just to become qualified in the profession, and than out of school we struggle to find jobs. Once hired as an occasional teacher you work without benefits and travel far distances just to get yourself out there for 4 or 5 years before you finally get hired on as a contract and get recognized on the grid. First year teachers do not get paid that well, and when you are swimming in student debt it is tough to make ends meet. On top of that, new teachers put out thousands of dollars of their own money every year to update resources and classroom material to make the learning experience as fun as they can for the students. On top of this, teachers are expected to update their qualifications, and are encouraged to take additional courses, that cost $700 a piece, to keep them current in the field and move them up the grid. So people who don't know the everyday life of a teacher shouldn't say anything, because as peachy and perfect as you may think it sounds, it is a lot of hard work, and our own money that we invest every year so that your children have a good education and schooling experience . Oh, and did I mention all the extra-curricular activities we run and manage on our own personal time. I love my job, and I am there for the children - not the money. But, this wage freeze will affect the classroom, the students and the schools.

As a teacher in Ontario, I find the governments's actions in pushing though legislating the Putting Students First Act both offensive and disrespectful. 

Inherent in the name of the act is the assumption that the teachers are NOT putting students first. I work every single day including weekends and holidays to prepare, plan and broaden my professional knowledge for the benefit of my students. I spend at least half of my pay on my students and materials for teaching and learning. I am certainly not alone in doing so. There is nothing more important than the future of our children and this is why our work is around the clock. We give our hearts to this profession because we care.

How is legislation that freezes wages, cuts sick days and imposes mandatory unpaid days off "putting students first"? Its very aim is to reduce the deficit and get the conservative voters in Kitchener/Waterloo to give McGuinty the seat he needs to win a majority.  Where does putting students first come into play? Is it by giving them 3 additional days off learning? Is it by ensuring teachers feel like enemies in the eyes of parents and the province?Is it by preventing a strike that was not imminent? Is  it by teaching children that bullying trumps communicating? Is it by showing them how to usurp the democratic process? 

Sounds like the government really understands what it means to put students first.

I understand the need for fiscal restraint, but as we teach our students, bullying is not okay.

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