Where to begin?

Andrew Hallikas

Dear editor:
Where to begin? I refer to the Rainy River District School Board’s press release of April 19.
I have never read a more disingenuous, misleading, inaccurate press release. In one fell swoop, the board has managed to annoy, anger, and insult its secondary school teachers under the guise of purporting to invite the teachers back to the bargaining table.
This press release is a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between the teachers and their democratically-elected federation leaders. The board should not need reminding that the secondary teachers are the Federation and that the Federation leaders are all local teachers.
The unwillingness of the board to understand and accept this fact is one of the reasons that present communication between the teachers and the board is so abysmal.
The local secondary teachers are united behind their democratically-elected leaders and determined that this board must change its tactics when dealing with them.
A letter from Director of Education Heather Campbell recently was sent to every secondary school teacher employed by the board; this further raised the ire of the teachers. The letter was a blatant attempted to drive a wedge between the teachers and their elected Federation leaders.
This miscalculated attempt to divide and cause dissension has backfired and instead has united the teachers—and made them even more determined to attain a fair and equitable settlement.
Having recently attended a packed meeting of the secondary teachers, I can say with certainty that there is no trust at all between teachers and board management.
Some time ago, I had the privilege of serving as the District 5B Federation president. We averaged perhaps one grievance a year, which often would be settled by a face-to-face discussion with the director at the time.
Presently with this board, there is an unprecedented number of grievances proceeding to arbitration—an unnecessary cost to taxpayers brought about by an employer determined to provoke.
The Ontario median for such disputes is 3.21 cases per 1,000 members. The RRDSB’s management style has resulted in the dubious distinction of having a grievance rate of 1,860 percent above the Ontario mean—the highest in Ontario.
You have to ask yourself what has changed in intervening years to have caused such a ridiculous number of disagreements over the interpretation of the collective agreement.
One of the factors is that board management refuses to abide by language in the collective agreement that has been there for many years, in fact decades.
This agreement was negotiated in good faith and signed by both parties. My signature is on some of these documents and I fully understand what was negotiated. The current board management, who were not at the table then, choose to deliberately misinterpret these clauses.
It has come to this; impasse and the application of sanctions and the pink listing of this board by the Federation. I would call this a crisis, yet neither the director of education nor the chair of the board have ever met with the teachers. Why?
Instead, the board has hired an additional lawyer. So although there is neither a director nor board chair at the table, the board has employed two expensive labour lawyers—again at taxpayer expense.
It should be clear that this labour dispute is not about money. This dispute goes to the core of what all unions stand for: fairness and the protection of the vulnerable. Especially the protection of our youngest and least-experienced teachers.
Board chair Dianne McCormack was a respected member of the OSSTF Occasional Teachers Bargaining Unit some years ago. She sat on the OSSTF Bargaining Team and was a union activist.
In fact, she was a member of the Occasional Teacher Bargaining Unit during the Occasional Teachers’ Strike that occurred about 10 years ago—the first such strike in the province of Ontario.
Dianne was so highly thought of by her teaching and union peers that OSSTF donated money to her campaign for election to the school board.
At that time, her comments regarding OSSTF leadership and board management were markedly different than those attributed to her in the board’s press release. What has changed?
In fact, the entire board senior management team consists of former teacher union members. They all had the privilege of enjoying the benefits of fairly-negotiated collective agreements—agreements that protected them and offered them opportunities to rise in their chosen employment.
It is very sad to see these very representatives of management now disrespecting their former colleagues and the process of bargaining in good faith for a fair and equitable settlement.
Andrew Hallikas,
Former District 5B
Federation president
and chief negotiator,
Fort Frances, Ont.