Teachers, school board still talking

Local teachers’ unions continue to hold talks with the Rainy River District School Board on new collective agreements, and both sides remain optimistic a settlement can be reached if the provincial government comes up with some new funding.
Sharon Preston, president of the local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said their negotiating team—along with a conciliator—will meet with the board again March 22.
“We’re hopeful about the negotiations on the 22nd, keeping in mind it’s really up to the province to come up with some initiatives so that our board and teachers can continue with negotiations,” she noted.
“Our board, until it gets some new money through the province, really cannot do anything as far as of some of the goals that we want,” Preston added.
Some of those goals include 200 minutes of preparation time per week, a cap on supervision time, and a real salary increase.
“Right now we only have the funding for what the ministry [of education] has allowed us, so we can’t do much more than that,” said Laura Mills, chief financial officer for the local public school board.
“But we’re optimistic. We hope to be able to get a settlement,” she added.
Collective agreements for both elementary and secondary teachers across the province expired Aug. 31. Both local units have voted in favour of taking action—including a strike—to achieve their contract goals.
Of the local elementary teachers who voted, 100 percent were in favour of action, while 99 percent of voting secondary teachers were in favour.
Andrew Hallikas, chief negotiator for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (District 5B), noted the vote was not a reflection on the local school board but on the provincial government.
“The purpose of the strike vote is to get the government’s attention. They need to put more funding into education,” said Hallikas. “We’re not directing the strike vote at our board at all.”
ETFO and OSSTF units across the province have been taking strike votes in the last few weeks—most voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
Both unions also are under provincial takeover, meaning local units can continue to bargain for local issues. But the unions’ head offices are orchestrating negotiations regarding larger issues such as funding directly with the Ministry of Education.
Mills noted many of the local issues have been dealt with, leaving the provincial issues on the table.
The next step in the process may be a work-to-rule campaign by teachers.
“We are going to be having some meetings locally with the takeover team to look at work-to-rule,” said Preston. “Nothing has been decided upon at this time, so we don’t have any definite plans for that right now.”
Hallikas said local secondary teachers are not prepared to go that route yet.
“Locally, we haven’t even talked about it,” he remarked. “So far, nothing has caused us to go that route. We need to take it one meeting at a time.”
The local OSSTF bargaining team will meet with the school board again tomorrow.