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OPEN THE BOX!!! Halton District EAs Fight To Change Unions

Acton UP sat down with HDEAA (Halton District Educational Assistant Association) members, Maryanne Field, Dawn Ivens, Lori Whitelaw, and Liisa Cairns about their recent bid to join OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation). “This isn’t personal” explains Field, “it’s just good business”. Since HDEAA's inception, the membership numbers have multiplied, the job itself has become more demanding and the political climate has changed. “OSSTF can offer us resources we don’t have: a defense fund, executive training, WSIB specialists, a team of lawyers and experienced negotiators, to name a few.” In addition to secondary school teachers, the OSSTF represents EAs at 27 boards in Ontario. This group concurs, the current executive is doing what they can with what they have but HDEAA lacks structure, transparency and resources, both time and money, to have a meaningful impact. “There are daily occurrences of violence against members resulting in injuries, concussions and WSIB claims” says Cairns “the Union is not returning our calls or our emails”. As a costs savings measure in 2012, the provincial government started reducing the number of small independent groups, like HDEAA, it bargained with (https://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2012/ch1.html). HDEAA responded, giving the membership the option to either not negotiate or join a counsel of small independent units. They joined The Educational Workers Alliance of Ontario (EWAO) despite a push from some members to join OSSTF at that time. In 2017 members again approached the executives about the benefits of joining a larger union. The HDEAA Constitution states that; “Special meetings of the membership may be called to transact urgent/time sensitive business of the Union by the President or upon written request by at least seventy-five (75) members in good standing …” Despite collecting 152 signatures, and meeting all the other stipulations of the clause, their special meeting was denied. “So, we started collecting cards” states Field. Collecting cards is a process by which members sign a card stating they wish to be represented by the Union identified on the card. The Ontario Labour Review Board (OLRB) requires 40 percent of potential memberships too sign a card in order to hold a vote. “With no access to the supply list we felt reasonably confident we had 40 percent or more cards signed and the OSSTF submitted the application” says Field. The OLRB called a vote for September 16, 2019. 886 members voted. This is substantial as “I suspect there were less than 300 members at our recent ratification meeting” says Field. HDEAA claims that the 40 percent threshold was not met and the OLRB sealed the ballot box while the parties argue the validity of the list. Acton UP contacted Judy Watson, President HDEAA for comment. “I understand the frustration of the members pushing the OSSTF agenda……The OLRB should not have allowed a vote prior to establishing the 40 percent threshold was met.” According to Watson this issue is “out of our hands” but expects the OLRB to hold OSSTF to the same 40 percent standard HDEAA met when they certified in 1995. A meeting is scheduled for March 12 between the OLRB, OSSTF and Halton District School Board to discuss the validity of the voters on the list. When asked how many supply EAs are on the list, Watson explained that the number “changes on a weekly basis” but the list is generated by the School Board and not the Union. In the meantime, “we continue to represent our members’. “The membership has spoken” says Ivens. Field continues “The membership deserves stronger support, and better resources, and the only way to make us whole is to open the box. When the box is open, and the votes are counted, we will accept the results. If we lost this bid, I will concede.” If you are a member of HDEAA and want to join the discussion on this issue, you can join 445 other voices on the Facebook group ‘EAs Standing Strong’.




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