In September 2010, the Ontario provincial government implemented a new full-day kindergarten program, which is designed to be staffed (subject to certain ratios) by a teacher and an Early Childhood Educator (ECE). The influx of ECEs into the education system has presented a number of labour relations issues for school boards, particularly in respect of pay grids and accounting for experience credit such that placement on the pay grid can be determined.

This very issue went to arbitration this past summer before Arbitrator Steinberg in Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, District 25 v. Ottawa-Carlton District School Board. The arbitration was conducted by way of Final Offer Selection, in which each party presented their proposal for the appropriate manner of determining experience credit, and Arbitrator Steinberg was bound to choose between the two proposals.

The two proposals were quite different in respect of the type of prior experience that would be credited. The OSSTF proposal provided a very broad formulation of a 1:1 credit for direct employment in Ontario “for which ECE qualifications were required”. It also provided for pro-rated and capped credit for related relevant employment “for which ECE qualifications are not required” as well as a service element for current employees of the Board who transfer into the positions.  

The Board, on the other hand, had a much more narrowly focused proposal. It granted 1:1 credit for direct experience as an ECE at another school board, pro-rated credit was provided for ECEs with experience as an Educational Assistant or Child Care Supervisor with the Board and, more limited credit was provided, at the discretion of the Board, for ECEs with related experience with kindergarten- aged children in a licenced group facility.  

Arbitrator Steinberg stated that each proposal had its strengths and weaknesses, noting that the Board’s proposal was “overly rigid” and the OSSTF’s proposal was “overly vague”. However, he ultimately chose the Board’s proposal, for the following reasons:

  1. The OSSTF’s proposal would place an undue administrative burden on the Board;
  2. The Board’s proposal was a more likely outcome of collective bargaining since it appeared to take into account that the parties were dealing with an entirely new position in a new context. He specifically took into account the fact that ECEs must work with a teacher and from a curriculum with a specific age group of children;
  3. The ECE designation is relatively new both through its regulation generally and through the full day kindergarten program. Arbitrator Steinberg envisioned that the parties would fine tune the experience credit provisions as they gain actual experience with the full day kindergarten model;
  4. The teacher model for experience credit for experience is not an apt approach because the profession of ECEs is practiced in so many different environments;
  5. When reviewing the approach taken by other school boards, very few agreements had analogous language to the proposal made by the OSSTF;
  6. In the OSSTF’s existing collective agreement with the Board, there were some restrictions on credit for direct and related experience; and
  7. The wage grid has only five levels. The Board’s proposal did not have the effect of condemning new hires to lower placement on the grid for many years.  

Given that the arbitration was by Final Offer Selection and Arbitrator Steinberg was bound to choose between the two proposals (and could not substitute his own), the decision will be of limited precedential value. In fact, in coming to his decision, Arbitrator Steinberg was clear that, if he had the jurisdiction to do so, he would not have chosen either proposal. Perhaps of more weight when fashioning experience credit proposals in other jurisdictions, in his decision, Arbitrator Steinberg stated:

I would have tried to fashion a compromise that would retain the positive elements of both proposals while avoiding the vagueness of the OSSTF proposal and the narrowness of the OCDSB [Board] proposal. I think that the types of provisions, with some modifications, which come closest to that are reflected in the agreements at the Bluewater DSB and the Renfrew County DSB (ironically both of these agreements are with OSSTF Districts) and at the Limestone DSB.  

Accordingly, while it is clear that the experience credit proposal of the Board that was ultimately chosen should not be regarded as a “model proposal”, the decision is helpful to other boards who are grappling with the issue of determining experience credit. Arbitrator Steinberg clearly sets out the criteria that he found relevant in choosing the appropriate proposal, and he also points to agreements made at other school boards that come closest to what he views as the most appropriate approach to determining experience credit for ECEs