ETFO, other education unions, win Bill 115 challenge

SUDBURY—The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and other education unions won a major court victory at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week. The court found that the Ontario government’s Bill 115 imposed in the fall of 2012 was a violation of the collective bargaining rights of education unions.

In his decision, Justice Lederer said the passage of the Putting Students First Act infringed on members’ rights to meaningful collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also ruled that the process the government engaged in was “fundamentally flawed.”

“This is a total vindication of our pursuit of democratic rights on behalf of our members,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond, in a news release. “ETFO and its legal counsel acted as the lead in launching the Charter challenge in the fall of 2012 because, by imposing the terms and conditions of our members contract, the Ontario government abrogated teachers collective bargaining rights, including their right to strike.”

“I am very pleased overall with the court decision, but very conscious of the collective bargaining process having been high jacked and hopefully it can be put back on the right track now,” said James Clyke, president of District 3 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF). Part of the ruling said that due to the fiscal reality that it might not have been different if the province followed the correct collective bargaining process. But, it’s about the process, and proper collective bargaining.”

“I agree with our president Paul Elliot that this ruling indicates that a proper collective bargaining process needs to be maintained in the province,” said Mr. Clyke. “If the province wants good relationships and negotiations with teachers and unions they have to be unfettered and done properly.”

Mr. Clyke said, “I’m hoping the government will not decide to appeal the decision. I think we should, together, take steps back and look at how collective bargaining should go, going into next years bargaining.”

Bill 115 blatantly interfered with lawful collective bargaining activities in the education sector for three years. It put the actions of the government beyond the review of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, outside the reach of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and even above the courts, said an ETFO release.  In response, the Charter challenge was launched by ETFO as well as the Ontario Secondary Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

Justice Lederer did not comment on a remedy for the parties. The parties are now required to meet to determine a remedy. If they are unable to reach agreement on a remedy, the matter will be referred back to Justice Lederer for a decision.