Barry Weisleder has been a fixture in local lefty and union circles since the 1960s.Everyone knows Weisleder. And whether it's at a union gathering or a meeting of local activists, his is usually one of the loudest voices in the hall with a point to make or a copy of Socialist Action to sell.
Now his troubles with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and its former president, Liz Barkley, have formally come out in the open.
Two weeks ago, OSSTF members learned from their internal newsletter about Weisleder's removal as president of the Occasional Teachers Bargaining Unit (OTBU District 12, OSSTF) for Toronto by their union's internal judicial council. Among other things, it ruled that Weisleder "contributed to an atmosphere of disrespect for colleagues and distrust of OSSTF beyond his union."
Barkley and other Federation higher-ups, including OSSTF president Earl Manners, are tight-lipped about the controversy. But Rosemary Clark, a staff representative for the OSSTF judicial council, says the decision was entirely focused on Weisleder's breach of the union's bylaws and had nothing to do with any political disputes between Barkley and Weisleder within the OTBU local. "The judicial Council doesn't judge the source of a conflict but the behaviour of the person charged," says Clark. "It doesn't make rulings on motivation."
Weisleder founded the OTBU about 20 years ago and has been its only president for all but one year of its existence. The decision to suspend him also marks the first time in its 84-year history that the OSSTF has removed a sitting union official.
Weisleder's lawyer, Brian Shell, recently applied for a court injunction to block his client's ouster.
At the centre of the set-to, to hear Weisleder's supporters tell it, is the June 2001 contract signed by the OSSTF that saw occasional teachers receive a 3.75 per cent pay hike.
Weisleder initially supported the contract, but began denouncing the deal publicly when the school board lifted a cap on the number of substitute teachers. He says that action meant that 300 more teachers, some 1,500 in all, would be vying for the 400 to 500 substitute teaching spots available through the board. The board, for its part, according to a spokesperson, says there aren't enough substitute teachers to accommodate teacher absences and supervisory requirements.
It was Weisleder's contention that a growing number of these substitutes are former full-time teachers living on comfortable pensions who don't need the work and are undercutting OTBU members whose entire incomes depend on substitute teaching.
Somewhere along the line things got nasty between Weisleder and Barkley, a former secretary for the Toronto OTBU executive. Barkley lodged a formal complaint with the OSSTF's judicial council, and Weisleder was brought up on a raft of charges alleging violations of union bylaws.
The council ended by upholding many of the charges, among them the use of unprofessional and malicious language that impugned those who opposed him in the OSSTF bargaining unit executive. The council also found that Weisleder's "demeaning statements" in general meetings "exceeded what might be normally expected in political criticism." The council's decision also alludes to Weisleder's distributing of "disparaging" e-mail, altering of the minutes of meetings and "the intimidation of several female members of his bargaining unit executive." The council's decision also refers to money in the OTBU bank accounts "not being accurately reflected" in the OTBU's annual report.
"Your conduct fell below the standard to be expected of federation members," OSSTF president Manners wrote to Weisleder after the council decided to suspend him for 18 months.
Weisleder appealed, but lost in December. His suspension was later increased to 32 months. He says his ouster is part of a "purge" of those who don't want to see the substitute teachers' bargaining unit merged into the OSSTF. Weisleder's lawyer plans to argue that the OSSTF's limitation on what could be called into evidence amounted to a breach of natural justice. A trial date has been scheduled for late March.