The Teachers Union Concern Was Always the Union Dues

When parties experiencing a testy relationship come to an agreement, the necessary concessions often come from a group that is not represented at the bargaining table.

The current instance involves those charged with managing our school system: principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisory staff.

The starting point was the release of the Glaze report which made 22 recommendations for changing how our school system operates. The government responded the next day indicating its acceptance “of the spirit and intent of the recommendations in this report.”

Further, it identified eleven of those recommendations as priorities for implementation. Most prominent were the elimination of school boards, removing the principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisory staff from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, and establishing a professional College of Educators which would take over some functions currently performed by the union.

The union began an energetic opposition to the changes. It stopped participating in the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions.

A well-orchestrated campaign of letters to the editor by union officials told us that “These changes are set to basically dismantle our entire education system…”, and that “… the Glaze report as presented will bring chaos to the education system at the expense of students.”

Teachers were asked to provide the union with a mandate for an illegal strike. NSTU president Liette Doucet reported that “It was clear NSTU members agree the situation is dire and that as teachers and administrators we need to stand up for public education.” All very stirring stuff.

The mandate was duly provided and the province agreed to talk to the union. The outcome was that the province dropped two of the Glaze recommendations: establishment of a College of Educators and establishment of a central assessment office.

As for the principals and others in management, they will now “move out of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) to a new association called the Public School Administrators Association. This means they are removed from the NSTU bargaining unit and are no longer members, but are still affiliated with the NSTU. That affiliation ensures seniority and compensation are protected, and principals and vice-principals will have the same benefits and pension they do now.”

This seems remarkably similar to the province’s original announcement which proposed to: “move principals and vice-principals from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, while protecting salaries, pensions and benefits.”

The big difference is that the principals and vice-principals will now be expected to pay union dues. Of course if they wanted to donate dues to the NSTU without belonging they could have done so without asking permission from the province.

It does not appear that they were asked how they feel about all this, since it isn’t necessary to protect their salaries, pensions, or benefits. Perhaps they are all delighted, but as time passes they may come to resent it.

As members of the non-union Association they can decide to hold a vote of their own about whether to continue paying. That may be rather uncomfortable for the union.

It has concluded that the existential threat to our education system has abated. The possibility of a strike, for which teachers risked both fines and loss of pay, has been taken off the table.

Meanwhile there are encouraging reports about the impact of the new attendance policy, one of the early initiatives of the Council to Improve Classroom Conditions. It will be interesting to see if the union, whose constant refrain is the need to be consulted, decides to rejoin that productive group.

The union is still grumbling about process and the substance of the Glaze recommendations, but has settled for a commitment by the government to consult on some of them.

Teachers have good ideas that can help inform policy choices. The union’s role in representing those voices will be ineffective if every issue where they disagree with the government is described as a fight for quality education. Consultation is not a collective bargaining process.

Parents have good ideas that can help inform policy choices. Replacing the English language school boards with a 15 member Provincial Advisory Council of Education is a good start. Government would be wise to find additional avenues for parental voices to be heard.

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