After that unpleasant surprise, the Teachers Society didn’t know whether there was even any point in bothering with collective bargaining. Maybe every single table should just go straight to binding arbitration, because if the Minister is right and the school divisions are going to rely on the PSSA, we’re all just going to end up at binding arbitration anyway. And by the way, what is the Government of Manitoba suddenly doing at our bargaining tables?
Anyway, for timing reasons, Pembina Trails School Division was in a position to go first, with Louis Riel coming up in a close second. Before anything else is said, done, or planned, the Teachers Society wanted to know the answer to this one important question:
It is the position of the Manitoba Teachers Society that the Public Services Sustainability Act has no legal force or effect (i.e. totally irrelevant), so then, Manitoba School Boards Association, what do you say?
In a letter dated February 28, 2018, through the Pembina Trails School Division, the School Boards Association says this:
The [Teachers] Association has expressed the position that it intends to bargain as if The Public Service Sustainability Act will have no force or effect. That Act poses significant restrictions and limitations on amendments in a renewed collective agreement. The Province could proclaim that legislation at any time, in which case it will have a retroactive effect. It would be imprudent, in that case, to negotiate as though the legislation does not, nor will not, have any impact on collective bargaining.
Translation: Even though the PSSA is not legally in force, or in effect, it will have an impact on what is happening today because of the retroactivity provisions.
The Pembina Trails School Division table goes on to say that they cannot agree to open collective bargaining yet because, among other reasons, the government may be changing the system to a province-wide central table, and the municipal elections (which include school trustees) are scheduled for the end of this year.
MTS replies that since we don’t know if or when the Province may or may not change the system, and since we have a system now, let’s go ahead and use it, rather than wait for a “might be.” Besides (I’m not sure whether Paci said this or whether I just inferred it), the municipal elections take place every four years, and for the past two or three elections at least, the collective agreements are on exactly the same schedule. So, the collective agreements always expire the same year as the municipal elections, and no one has ever asked to wait before.
But the School Division stays the course – we are stuck with what the Minister said on February 8, and therefore the PSSA.
Ok then, say the teachers, we’ll just go straight to binding arbitration. We would still like to negotiate, but if you can’t do anything, then I guess we won’t bother.
Somebody in government sends a letter which, I assume, is supposed to help resolve the impasse. Roughly paraphrased, it said something like:
There seems to have been some erroneous conclusions vis-à-vis the Public Services Sustainability Act. The Act is not law. The Manitoba Government traditionally sets mandates for the public sector. There is still a full range of collective bargaining available, except that the parties must adhere to the 0%, 0%, 0.75%, 1% pattern for wage increases.
Well, that’s not much help – the PSSA doesn’t apply because it is not law, but we are still using its mandate on wages? Seems as though the government is getting tangled in its own web of spin.
Naturally, this solves nothing. And there is much back and forth between the Teachers Society and the School Boards Association. It’s all about whether the School Boards are going to rely on the passed-but-not-proclaimed PSSA wage restraints, because as far as the Teachers Society is concerned, if they are, there is no point in bargaining.
It’s frustrating for both sides. The Teachers Society want a definite answer – will we be negotiating under the PSSA or not? I gather that since the School Boards know that everything is over if the answer is yes, they try in avery was possible not to answer this question.
It gets so bad that someone from the School Boards Association suggests that the School Boards may have a claim of an unfair labour practice against the Teachers Society because no bargaining has occurred. (I’m not sure how serious this threat was, but it does tend to demonstrate what a difficult situation everyone was in).
In any event, the Teachers Society is adamant. If the School Boards are going to stick to the PSSA pattern on wages, there is no point in bargaining because even if any agreement is reached at the table, the members won’t ratify it.
Paci points out here that because of inflation, a 0% wage increase isn’t a freeze, but rather a cut.