Since November 2015, Toronto Secondary School teachers and the Toronto District School Board have been negotiating their local-tier contract without success. The union which represents the TDSB Secondary School teachers has subsequently initiated a work-to-rule that remains ongoing. Due to the ambiguity and unanswered questions regarding this event, The Reckoner decided to take an in depth look at the issue, the school’s reaction, and its effectiveness. A special thanks to all the teachers, students, and administrators who helped in the creation of this article.

It would be an admirable feat to spend a day at Marc Garneau without noticing the ongoing teacher strike. While subtle, students have not been oblivious to the work-to-rule’s presence in the school. Noticeable aspects of the strike, such as administrators picking up the attendance, incomplete report cards, and inconvenient parent-teacher interview times mean students are undoubtedly aware that the work-to-rule is occurring; many of them are simply unaware of its cause.

The Issue

As explained by MGCI’s Union representative, Mr. Jan, the work-to-rule is derived from a stalemate between Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) District 12 (Toronto) and the TDSB during their contract negotiations. The talks between the two parties have been ongoing since November 2015, and are being held back by two main issues.

First of all, the Toronto teachers union and the TDSB have reached an impasse over their “time-release” terms. A “time-release” is a period of three years where the Toronto teachers union executives do not work as teachers, but rather represent the union at the District Office. Consisting of a President, two Vice Presidents, and executive officers, these representatives are teachers who have been elected by the union members. Because these executives are still employed as teachers, the TDSB has historically
paid their salaries.

The Board and teachers are currently arguing about where the funds for the executives’ salaries should
come from: Who should pay for the union executives? The board or the union itself?

“Right now, from our point of view, the people that are elected… are paid at a certain rate,” said Mr. Jan, when asked to explain the issues regarding the new “time-release” terms. “With this contract that’s ongoing, from our perspective, the school board has asked for four to five hundred thousand dollars more from the union.”

The board’s request of four to five hundred thousand dollars will cover the cost of paying the union executives when they are not working as teachers. The teacher’s union has expressed their disaccord with these terms, but neither side has conceded. According to Mr. Jan, if the union were to agree to the TDSB’s terms, they would need to cut executive members, or increase the monthly membership dues, to allocate
sufficient funds.

However, the board believes it should not be responsible for paying employees who do not work for it. “The union has their membership dues,” said Ms. Goldenberg, when asked about the board’s request.

The second contentious issue brought up during contract negotiations were the teachers’ health and safety concerns. “We want more health and safety protocols in the school,” Mr. Jan commented. “We want more health inspectors in the school, and we want more health and safety concerns addressed, and in a more formalized way.” Concerns brought up by the teacher’s union included the inactivity of the school board when informed of issues regarding health and safety. According to Mr. Jan, the TDSB has been cutting health and safety representatives, and has not been following Ministry health and safety standards.

While Ms. Goldenberg, Marc Garneau’s principal, did not comment on this second issue, she did say that she routinely receives a monthly health and safety report on the school from the board, and addresses the concerns she is notified of.

From the Students

From the perspective of the OSSTF, the actions of the government justify a work-to-rule. However, the strike has elapsed a period of five months, a duration many students find unsettling.

“I recognize the teacher’s work-to rule poses a large issue for many students, especially those living in lower-income areas where students already need extra support,” commented Khalida Elsadati, the TDSB Supercouncil Co-Chair and a Marc Garneau student. “Something as simple as parent-teacher interviews being significantly shorter and scheduled at such an odd time in the day is inconvenient for parents like mine who work long day shifts.”

The second biggest issue in the student body was the lack of early dismissals: “As someone who has a part time job, I’ve had to change my personal and work schedule around to fit the new school schedule,” commented Sarah Ahmed, president of Marc Garneau’s BSAP Program.

In general, the strike has affected the administration of Marc Garneau exponentially more than it has affected the students, which is exactly what the union wants. Learning from the mistakes of the Ontario-wide teacher strike in 2012, the Toronto union wants to maintain a positive relationship with students and parents.

From the Teachers

Of course, the work-to-rule has changed the school environment of those who are not students as well. Many teachers at Marc Garneau have expressed their concerns for the many inconveniences the strike has caused: “As teachers, we’re also missing out on things we actually enjoyed as well, so we no longer have our department meetings, to be able to have extra time to work with other teachers that teach the same course,” said Ms. Woods, head of the science department.

As part of the work-to-rule, teachers are also not allowed to attend school meetings, because it is not in their contract. As stated before, this was the cause for the cancellation of early dismissals on Fridays. Ms. Bhandarkar, a science teacher, commented that while the strike is disadvantageous to teachers, the extra teaching time on Fridays has been helpful for her classes. Mr. van Bemmel, a physics teacher at Garneau, said, “I really love this job; I came to it later in life, I really want to do it, and I want to do it in its full capacity. I don’t see my employers as a great evil. They have their concerns too, but I just wish they could sort it out so we could move forward.”

The Administration

When interviewed, Ms. Woods said, “It’s been very difficult for the administration, because a lot of stuff has been put on them,” which is the undeniable truth of this work-to-rule. As stated before, the union doesn’t want to put pressure onto students and their parents; instead, they wish to inconvenience the administration of the school in hopes that the senior management will complain to the Board.

Because the work-to-rule prevents teachers from bringing down attendances, covering classes, and monitoring the halls, the administration is forced to fulfill these responsibilities. For example—as students have noticed—the administration needs to collect attendance every period, which detracts from its time for
other responsibilities. Another inconvenience occurs when the school’s management isn’t able to find substitutes to cover classes, causing students to be sent down to the cafeteria for the period and supervised by the Vice-Principals.

Is It Working?

One question surrounding this strike has been louder than the rest: when will it end? For five months, Marc  Garneau has waited patiently for these inconveniences to cease, but they seem to be perpetual. According to Mr. Jan, an ending time is indefinite: “Right now, I think, yes, [the strike will continue], and if you ask me when this will be over, I truly don’t know. Because right now, there doesn’t seem to be much pressure. We, as a union, may increase the pressure on the TDSB, and we’ll see in the near future.”

A pressure increase may even be what the union needs to do, if they wish to win (and end) the work-to-rule soon. “I have never called the board to complain, nor do I plan on calling them,” commented Ms. Goldenberg. Consequently, Marc Garneau should expect the strike to continue until the school year ends.

However, Mr. Jan has stated that some aspects of the strike are working, like the increased workload the administration just tackle. “Our administrators are working extra because of the strike, and our administrators are management,” he said. “Of course, trustees know that there is no contract, and this is dragging out and dragging out, and it’s also costing TDSB more money, because they have to call in more supply teachers.”

In the end, the TDSB-wide work-to-rule does not severely affect students nor does it harm their access to a supportive learning environment. While the Board and the union are at a prolonged disagreement, it is neither the goal of the teachers nor of the administration to inconvenience students.

Strike Piece Summary - Valiant Chan

A summary of the affects of the work-to-rule on students, teachers, and the administration. (Illustration by Valiant Chan)