Teachers’ unions launch court fight over despised anti-strike bill
“The bargaining process, with its give and take, came to a crashing halt when Bill 115 was introduced…”
The Toronto Star has covered some of Howard Goldblatt’s submissions before the Superior Court of Justice in a Charter challenge to Bill 115.
As the Star notes, five unions representing Ontario teachers and staff commenced a challenge to Bill 115 – the “Putting Students First Act” – passed by the McGuinty government several years ago.
Bill 115 imposed two-year contracts on public elementary and high school teachers and other school staff. The unions claim that Bill 115 breached the constitutional rights of their members to strike and unlawfully interfered with meaningful collective bargaining, contrary to s. 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The bargaining process, with its give and take, came to a crashing halt when Bill 115 was introduced because the parameters (set by Queen’s Park) fundamentally impeded it,” said lawyer Howard Goldblatt, representing the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
The government stirred up a hornet’s nest when it demanded other school worker unions sign deals that were “substantially identical” to the one it negotiated with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), which froze salaries for two years, reduced sick days, forced staff to take three unpaid days off and put an end to payouts of unused sick days upon retirement.
“So the process was predetermined, the substance was predetermined and they had to be substantially identical to the OECTA agreement, so there was no meaningful bargaining process,” said Goldblatt on the first day of a case expected to be argued all week.
Moreover, to demand other unions all sign deals the same as OECTA’s is a “cookie-cutter” approach that doesn’t work, argued Goldblatt, because different unions have different contracts that suit memberships with issues that often vary.
While the government did repeal the Act in January 2013 after imposing the contract, “it had done its damage,” said Goldblatt.