Tag Archives: teachers

Ken Coran: The ultimate betrayal

4 Jul

Coran at Queen's ParkWhen Léo Bureau-Blouin announced that he would run for the Parti Québecois, right after year of student protests where he was the leader of one of the three coordinating groups, he was rightfully called out. As the president of the FECQ, his target during the protests was the Liberal government of Jean Charest, a tuition fee increase of up to 71 per cent and the attack on civil liberties, Law 78.

LBB was elected. His party did stop the Liberal’s hike, but brought in their own at 3 per cent annually. They repealed Law 78, though he was silent when his party passed another special law to interfere with the strike of construction workers. He was held up as a new voice of youth during the election. Marois has ensured that he’s remained obedient and silent.

While he was the weakest and least progressive of the three student leaders during the strike, LBB was still a symbol for the power that exists when people take to the streets. When that power is transferred into government, clearly, it evaporates. The ruling party got itself a pet; a star candidate; a symbol for how great they must be for students, and then have screwed students ever since.

Total win for Marois. Probably a win for LBB too, if he doesn’t care much about respect. Loss for the students that he once represented who will pay 3 per cent more in tuition fees in the fall, at institutions who had their budgets cut by 5 per cent.

The Ontario Liberals have just announced their own star candidate.

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, announced that he will run for the Liberal Party in the riding of London West.

Yes, right off the heels of the most outrageous interference into collective bargaining by the Ontario government possibly ever, one of the presidents of the unions who were stomped on, is running for his political enemies.

Making this even more hilarious is that he’ll be replacing Chris Bentley: the scandal-ridden MPP who resigned while facing a motion of censure for concealing the documents that explained how much the gas plant scandals cost (about $600 million). Chris was also the Minister who ushered in Ontario’s tuition fee policy that saw fees rise by up to 8 per cent, annually, for seven years.

Coran is a nice guy. He probably thinks he can do some positive things in this role, especially with a the new leader who has tried to distance herself from McGuinty’s policies and strategies. But for the members of OSSTF who had their right to collectively bargain eliminated and were forced to take a concessions contract, this is a slap in the face. Like the PQ’s poaching of LBB: good for them, bad for the students, or teachers.

Coran’s entry into provincial politics is only possible thanks to the complete moral bankruptcy that exists at Queen’s Park: no ideology, no politics, just populism and vacant slogans that mean less than the paper they’re printed on.

If Coran was an ambitious politician-in-waiting, should he have run for the NDP? While his decision to support the party that killed teachers’ rights to collectively bargain is objectively offensive, in this politically-vacant-populist-do-what-it-takes-to-get-elected world, it makes perfect sense that he’d choose the Liberals: they’re a stronger party, with more credibility than the NDP. He can argue that he can do more from the inside than the outside, that he can support teachers from Toronto.

And he’ll try, and he’ll fail.

The hypocrisy demonstrated by Coran is deeply frustrating, especially for union activists, but the reality of democracy in Canada is that it’s a complete joke. The NDP can develop a slogan like “Run to Win” (the NDP’s 1 Corinthians 9:24-inspired slogan that no party ever thought of using…ever) and not be dismissed outright as a bunch populist hacks.  The PCs are the only party with an ideological yardstick, yet Hudak remains to be seen as Satan’s spawn (or at the very least, the handmaiden of Satan, Mike Harris). Is it any wonder that voters are deeply disenfranchised?

For union members and progressive people, Coran’s appointment is a reminder that our victories will not be won at Queen’s Park, no matter what the outcome is of this election. If 15 per cent off car insurance, in two years, maybe, is the best the NDP can win when it holds the balance of power, and if the Liberals are just mini Harrisites who take longer to wreak the same havoc, policies that will make peoples’ lives better from Queen’s Park are a long way off.

There is power in collective bargaining and there is power in the streets. In an era where the power wielded by legislatures across Canada resembles more a Medieval fiefdom than a modern democracy, Canadians must rely on extra-parliamentary channels like never before.

And when movement leaders sell out their movements on a dime, we have to take back our movements, challenge our leadership and be clear that if they betray us, we won’t forget.

Supporting Ontario teachers

23 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 2.03.41 PMAll progressive struggles are connected, even when those connections can be hard to determine. Drawing these connections is not always easy. Neoliberalism has fractured our communities and conservatives (Conservatives and Liberals alike) have pitted one sector against the other to be able to control our organizing. Progressive people have to work to repair these damaged relationships and better connect the struggle with which they are most connected, to others happening in their communities, provinces or country.

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty has capitalized on division in his campaign against Ontario’s teachers. In an attempt to fight against his tactics, a group of activists and I created this Q&A on Bill 115 and teachers’ struggles. Feel free to share it, add to it in the comment section or offer your feedback.

While Bill 115 is about to be repealed, because much of its contents was forced upon teachers in a contract, its elements will remain.

What is Bill 115?
Bill 115 imposes a contract on all education workers (teachers, educational assistants, custodians, social workers, secretaries and lunchroom workers), some of who earn minimum wage. In early 2013, the McGuinty government intervened in the relationship between “management” (school boards) and the unions’ normal negotiation processes and forced a contract through legislation on all public elementary and secondary school workers.

The Liberals announced that they intend to repeal Bill 115 once implemented, proof that is unfair and likely unconstitutional because it restricts collective bargaining rights. If the legislation is eventually challenged for its constitutionality, there won’t be anything that can be done to change it, as it won’t exist any longer.

Really??
Yes. This is dirty politics at its worst. BIll 115 also doesn’t allow for appeals to the Labour Board or a third party arbitrator. No recourse exists to challenge or change the Act. This is why many teachers have resorted to withholding work that they would normally do as volunteers. Unfortunately, students who rely on extracurriculars, and the majority of teachers who love coaching or supervising clubs, suffer the most.

The government knew that this would be teachers’ only recourse and are banking on it damaging teachers’ image with the public to lose public support.

What are the biggest problems with the imposed contracts?
These imposed contracts undercut the role of the elected School Board trustees as management to determine what they think is best for their communities. It also removes teachers’ elected representatives from negotiating a fair contract for education workers. The Ontario government is circumventing two forms of democratic representation and forcing its will on both sides of the bargaining table.

In addition to the wage freeze, Bill 115 changes how sick days can be accrued. Teachers get no vacation pay. Instead, they are paid for 10 months of work, pro-rated over 12 months. Previously, many teachers could bank unused sick days and have them paid out much like workers’ vacation days or time in lieu. The new “use ‘em or lose ‘em” policy means sick days will now cost double what it used to to pay them out (when factoring in the cost of sick day usage and paying for supply teachers).

But teachers have it pretty easy. I do tough physical labour all day. They play with kids.
As with all workers, teachers are dedicated; they know it is a privilege to work with, advise and mentor your kids. On an assembly line, defective parts are thrown out–but teachers cannot just discard the kids that need extra help.

The impact teachers have on the lives and outcomes of our children is profound. If our government treats teachers like this, you can bet that they will treat other workers just as poorly.

I’m confused; didn’t Dalton McGuinty resign?
Yes, but even though he’s stopped all business of the Ontario Legislature since early October, he decided to stay Premier until the Liberal Party’s leadership race in late January. Every decision that he has made since he prorogued parliament has been done without the democratic force of our government behind it.

It sounds like he’s trying to use the teachers as a distraction.
Probably. Remember that he resigned and prorogued government amid allegations that his party wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in the temporary closure of a gas plant in Mississauga. His minister of energy, Chris Bentley, was facing a motion of censure that could have landed him in jail.

Will this affect me as a worker in another sector?
Yes. The teachers are being used as a test case. If the government is able to interfere in the collective bargaining process of a sector, even if the interference may be unconstitutional, they will use similar tactics against other workers. Bill 115 has allowed the McGuinty government to circumvent the only democratic process that workers have, and force them to take concession contracts.

Do you really think the government would come after private sector workers in the same way?
As industries change and as foreign ownership continues to play a role in labour politics, the Ontario government is going to look for what pieces of anti-union legislation to keep wages low and boost corporate profits. The closure of the Electro-Motive plant in London is proof that our governments are uninterested in protecting workers. Just as we will fight U.S.-style Right to Work legislation when it appears in Canada, we have to fight Ontario anti-union legislation in other sectors.

The Liberals only react when they think it will cost them votes or support. This means that all workers have to oppose Bill 115 and support education workers, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because when we’re targeted by these policies, we’ll need support.

The politics of wages

6 Jan

I hate when right-wing pundits whine and complain about someone’s wages. Regardless of legitimacy of the points raised, these arguments are nearly always made to obscure a debate.

Part of the response to the Idle No More campaign has included this strategy. For Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, the chorus of trolls at Sun TV are using her salary as an argument for why her hunger strike should be ignored.

APTN investigated Sun TV’s claims and reported that, unsurprisingly, they are mostly distortions or lies.

Spence is paid $71,000, says the audited statements from the reserve. $71,000. That’s starting salary for a university professor. That’s a unionized wage after years of work. 31 bureaucrats at the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs make more than $100,000. 21 people at the Art Gallery of Ontario make more than $100,000. I could go on. For some, this amount is too much for a woman, First Nations chief to make. I’m not referring to the people that matter: the people she represents. I’ve seen no reference to criticism about this attributed to her community.

Objectively, Spence is a leader who has raised the profile of the struggles of her community to the international stage. She has managed to make Attawapiskat a common community name for Canadians.

Most corporations and political parties would pay more than her year’s salary to public relations consultants get this kind of profile.

Salaries and individual worth are a total shell game. As a society, we assign value to some kinds of work regardless of how hard or important is the task. Healthcare workers, teachers, mothers, food workers, scientists, sanitation workers, farmers (and on and on and on) perform hard and necessary tasks. Their salaries pale in comparison to some jobs in the private sector and aren’t really a measure of how important these jobs are.For example, Premier Dalton McGuinty has circumvented legally binding rights for teachers to collectively bargain wages to impose a contract that will ensure no salary increases. He’s doing this because he thinks his party can withstand the opposition that teachers and their allies are raising.

That was done under the banner of needing fiscal restraint, which falls apart when you consider the deal his government made with the Ontario Provincial Police. For a two-year wage freeze, Dwight Duncan guaranteed Ontario cops a pay increase in 2014 of 8.5%.

In the arena of wages, teachers=bad, police=good. Food service workers=bad, CEOs=good. First Nations chiefs=bad, Governor General of Canada (who still collects a salary from the University of Waterloo AND had his pay more than double this year)=good.

When I was 19, I had two jobs. One, I worked for an hour at a time several times a week during the day. I made $50/hour. I’d show up, work a little and leave. The second, I worked 8-hour night shifts and made minimum wage. The difference was the perceived skill involved in both jobs, despite the fact that I found the second job to be extremely difficult, tiring and annoying.That experience instilled in me a deep sense of the inequity of wages. If everyone is working honestly and trying their best, at the end of the work day, we’ve all worked the same amount, regardless of the job.

Is Theresa Spence overpaid? That’s a question that only the folks at Attawapiskat have the right to answer.

Is talking about her salary in any way related to the hunger strike, the demands that she’s made, the Idle No More movement, or anything at all?No. It’s simply meant to obscure the debate and offer base reporters easy questions when presented the chance at a press conference.

But I can’t leave it there. I wanted to place Spence’s salary amid other salaries that help to provide context:

graphThis isn’t an argument for anyone here to be paid less (well, *maybe* the Governor General). It’s to give a visual of how not outrageous Spence’s salary is.

All salaries here are from 2011 except for the Mayor of Windsor, which is 2009. It’s also necessary to mention that comparisons with non-chiefs are imperfect, due to the the fact that a chief is not like a mayor as they are also responsible for what would fall into provincial and federal agency jurisdiction in a small town.

Notes:
The Town of Wasaga Beach passed a report this year arguing that it was necessary to increase their mayor’s unreasonably low salary.

Choices Association is a service agency of some kind in Hamilton, though all I could find in reference to it was a Yellowpages listing.

The Innovation Factory, also based in Hamilton, helped an average of 118 innovators last year. The term “innovators” is theirs and I have no idea what this means.

Yes I Can Nursery is a children’s nursery based in an affluent neighbourhood in Toronto that seemingly offers the standard services of a nursery.

Holland Christian Homes is an old-age facility in Brampton.

Topping off this graph is Governor General David Johnston. His salary is comprised of his projected salary for 2012 and the money he still earns from the University of Waterloo where he was president ending in 2010.

[The rest should be pretty obvious]

These are all public sector salaries. When we compare them to some of Canada’s highest income earners, most columns are too small to appear on on the same size graph.

So, I added up everyone’s salary and added a list of some of Canada’s highest income earners:

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 6.47.49 PM
Notes:
Calin Rovinescu from Air Canada received this salary and bonus despite the fact that Air Canada lost money last year and treated its workers like garbage. Hard to say that this was indeed performance-based and not part of a greedy and rotten culture where millions dollar gifts are given to a lucky few.

Gabriel Resources mines gold in Romaina. If he’s making that, here, you can imagine what the international executives of De Beers are making off the Victor Diamond Mine, near Attawapiskat.

The two bankers on the list have clearly earned their salaries. With record-setting profits despite slow economic times and massive household debts, these folks represent a system that is designed to take our money and sell it back to us in various ways. Anyone that clever surely deserves at least $10M in one year. Both banks are also major investors in the Tar Sands.

European Goldfields is based in the non-European Northwest Territories. Another mining firm. Another example of where the money goes once the earth is moved, resources stolen and land destroyed.

Too much of Canadian society is rotten with the obsession of money and it’s too easy to get wrapped up in arguments about salary. But shaming someone who is fighting to help her community have schools, potable water and housing by arguing that she is paid too much is offensive and vile.

Especially when, in the grand scheme of work, salaries and justice in this country, Theresa Spence isn’t in the same universe as the greediest, richest Canadians. Not to mention, I doubt the president of the Royal Bank has ever gone a day without eating, especially in the name of justice.

Sources: Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure, Huffington Post, CUPE, AFN, CBC, Town of Wasaga Beach, Attawapiskat First Nation.

“I do not see you as predatory” politics of statuatory rape and the Toronto Star

17 Sep

Apparently no sex needs to be alleged for one to endure a “sex trial” (from the Toronto Star online)

The Toronto Star loves writing about teachers behaving badly.

During my time at the CFS, every time a “teacher scandal” hit the Toronto Star, a coworker of mine would always call me into his office to read the latest scandal together. It would be regular: a few times a month. Each time I’d think “Man, the Toronto Star hates teachers.”

Part of that is that I come from a family of teachers. We read the blue pages aloud. We debate the details (and unknown details) when we have the chance. Throw in some administrators and union reps among my aunts and uncles and you have a recipe for many an entertaining night.

Recently I’ve been unsettled by the relentless coverage of the case of Mary Gowans.

Gowans clearly overstepped boundaries in a relationship she had with a former student. Upon graduating Grade 8, the pair became questionably close. A judge is determining just how close, as Gowans faces a maximum 10-year sentence for sexual interference.

She had a relationship with this student. He babysat her kids, volunteered with her and exchanged up to 2000 texts with her over a few years. Their relationship ended when the former student (a strapping young lad by accounts from the Star and Rosie DiManno) touched her and she (uncomfortable with how far it had gone) ended their “relationship.” He told his mother and charges were pressed. A judge is determining if a legal line was crossed.

While reading the seemingly endless stories coming from the Toronto Star, I’ve felt uneasy. Yes, Gowans crossed a line. But why is she getting this level of attention from the mainstream press? Are all adults implicated in inappropriate relations with children held to the same standard?

Then I’m stuck with the story of Officer Curtis Borel. About the same age as Gowans, he was convicted of the charge that Gowans is being tried for: sexual interference. But, where Gowans’ version of sexual interference was horseplay and a questionable multi-year relationship where they may or may not have kissed, Borel admitted to raping a 15-year-old girl.

He was handed a 20-day sentence, served on weekends, and probation.

Now, I’m not an advocate that anyone should be in jail. With folks remaining in jail for organizing around the G20 who have all served more than a 20-day sentence (and who, none of them, were convicted of raping children), I see jail as the least effective way possible of dealing with people who “break the law.” So, this is not an advocacy piece for jail.

No. This is an advocacy piece for fairness.

Borel was sentenced at the beginning of August. Despite this, I can’t find any record of his case being covered by the Toronto Star. (To check, I Googled my name and Toronto Star and many hits over the past year surfaced. Hardly scientific, but helpful nonetheless).

This story isn’t complete as we don’t know the outcome of Gowans’ trial. However, to read the Toronto Star’s coverage paints the picture of a desperate woman who gambled her family and husband on a kid. Her life is ruined.

No doubt Borel’s is ruined too. But there’s a difference between Borel and Gowans’. She never had sex with her former student. Borel met his victim at a “party house” and articles about her paint her as reluctant, unsure and having had sex with him consensually…. as if a 15-year-old can consent to sex with a 39-year-old.

So, I remain torn. Is it the fact that Gowans is a teacher in Toronto, and Borel was a cop outside of the GTA that has changed the level of coverage? Doubt is, as the Toronto Sun covered the trial. Is it the fact that Gowan’s transgression is worse than Borel’s? No… Is a teacher subject to greater scrutiny than police… seemingly yes, in this case.

But, I also can’t shake out of my head that this has more to do with the fact that Gowans is a woman. The boy with whom she had a relationship is, despite being a boy and the victim, consistently described by his manliness: his athleticism, his height, his apparent strength. Gowans is painted both as a predator and a victim. Indeed, when you read through the “alleges” she comes off as a victim.

In Borel’s case, the victim is clearly a victim, but her hesitancy builds a narrative that Borel, who was in personal trouble, just decided to have consensual sex with…oops…. someone who turned out to be 15. It’s Trainspotting all over again (with a 10-year age difference turned into a 29 year age difference…). And, in the end, he (legally) got off pretty light. (no doubt that his life is otherwise ruined).

So, I’ll have to wait until the verdict in Gowans’ trial to make a better comparison.

But the questions still remain: what is with the Toronto Star’s obsession with teachers?

There are bad people doing their jobs poorly everywhere. The difference here is this: Gowans was, despite her transgressions, a highly popular teacher in her school. This builds a delightful, and easy narrative.

We have no idea what kind of cop Borel was…the newspaper coverage didn’t dredge up that kind of information.

But to me, this is a story of a one-way mirror.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar record of journalists who do their jobs poorly as we do teachers (or even cops). But journalists who write about these trials do so as if they exist in a vacuum. This does more damage than good both to the victim, the perpetrator and to the community at large.

It’s no secret that teachers having sex ignites the online world like little else (other than cute cat pictures): take a quick look around Fark and this is obvious.

However, mainstream papers have a duty to be consistent in their coverage. Stop with the public crucifixions of people (teachers, especially). Or, if you’re going to treat a Mary Gowans in this way, you better spend the same amount of resources (and Rosie DiMannos) on the Curtis Borels of the world.

So, with more questions than answers, I’m left with a simple piece of advice to the editors out there:

Journalists should  keep in mind that theirs is a distorted lens. They are not under the same scrutiny that they dish out and this gives them power. For example, no way would I write about the gross, lecherous behavior I’ve seen or have heard of undertaken by journalists (conferences are great for watching this), but I’ve heard and seen it happen. I’m unaware of anything to the extent of Gowans and Borels, but, just because no one’s writing about your sexcapades doesn’t give you a green light to destroy the lives of others.

Journalists: please, please please: use caution and keep your humanity as you yield your keyboards.

Dear Ontario teachers:

12 Sep

I know you’re angry right now. You should be. That your bargaining process has been interrupted by the reprehensible actions of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario should outrage you and all Ontarians who support you.

I want to acknowledge your pain. Having never had a student wet himself beside me, having never had to separate a fight where girls’ hair is strewn across the floor, having never had to explain why the Merchant of Venice doesn’t suck, having never had to stop myself from swearing for more than a few days at a time….I know that what you do I could never do. What you do, most people can’t do. Even with the shitty teachers lumped in, the service you give to the community deserves to be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated.

Somehow, this message hasn’t gotten to Dalton McGuinty. Somehow his teacher-wife who I assume he talks to has withheld this vital information from him whenever they chat. Somehow his memories of high school (likely awkward) have clouded his judgement. Values of fairness, respect and process have been lost or forgotten.

Today was a terrible day in the history of Ontario.

In part, you are to blame. You spend too much time with students. Unlike the current government, you don’t issue a press release every time little Preethy learns to spell or big Hugh walks into class on time. You don’t brag to the world that another cohort of students have come and gone from your classroom with more knowledge than before. If you took the government’s approach to public relations, you would release an advisory about every child, every three days, even if medium-sized James was still a terrible fractioner.

In part, your union representatives are to blame. They thought that only Hudak could be as bad as Mike Harris. They were wrong. They thought that *maybe* Dalton was different. Despite having taken no action on much of the waste and poor policy ideas of the Harris years (like EQAO), they thought -just maybe- Dalton’ll respect us.

Did you know that one of the stats that Dalton likes to keep referencing is that under his watch, there’s been zero days lost to teacher strikes? He drags that out whenever he can. I first saw it at the Liberal convention in 2011. No mention, of course, that Ontario have a college professor strike under his watch. But who’s counting?

Dalton knows that playing politics with teachers is risky business. Screwing over the people who spend the most time with your children is not the smartest idea. But, his kids are grown now so bets are off, apparently.

You’ve all been used. Disrespected. Shamed. He’s hoping that you’ll return to your classrooms and never mention this again. He knows that your other political options aren’t the strongest and that many of you will reluctantly return to the Liberal tent.

But, you don’t have to do this.

You’ve just experienced what many progressive people would call “oppression” and it was at the hands of the “law” or, the people who you elected to represent you. These people were empowered by your votes, are paid with by your money, play with your money and then make your most powerful tool, a strike, illegal.

When you experience an injustice at the hands of people you pay and you elected, you have to first acknowledge that you’re part of the problem. Then, that there’s something you can do to fix it.

I urge you to think beyond work-to-rule. That pisses off the most keen or the most in need of extracurrirulars. The most keen will grow up to become embittered politicians and repeat this vicious cycle. The most in need of extracurriculars are the ones you care about the most.

Instead:

-Refuse to mark anything. Refuse to submit grades. Refuse to administer tests. Use this as an opportunity to be creative and responsive to your students. Give fake grades to the students who need to hear that they’re better than everyone else.

-Refuse to administer the government’s standard tests. Return the tests blank.

-Talk to your students about what has happened. Organize protests at your school in any way you can.

-Mail all your garbage to Queen’s Park. Because, why not? (primary teachers: this could include wood shavings…)

-Take your kids outside for class once a week. Hold class outside in protest (the kids will probably love this).

-Write a letter and send it to all of your kids’ parents about how you have been affected by this decision.

-Consider a wildcat strike. Tell your most active, badass kids to spread the word in advance so that no one actually shows up to school.

-Encourage your students to boycott their uniforms.

-Never forget and spend every second you have not marking to rage against this decision.

-Make sure that you have a few colleagues ready to take action with you. Do this together.

Teachers, I really feel for you. This hasn’t been fair. But, remember that the saying “no justice, no peace” actually means something.

Keep the children safe, get creative, and fight back with everything you have.

 

**I updated a sentence where I misused a comma. The rogue comma lead some to the interpretation that I think elementary teachers are garbage. It has been corrected.