High schools face rotating strike

Still unable to reach an contract agreement with the Rainy River District School Board, local secondary occasional teachers will be entering a second stage of sanctions starting this Friday (March 24).
Andrew Hallikas, chief negotiator for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 5B Occasional Teachers’ Bargaining Unit, said Monday that occasional teachers will be putting up informational pickets lines at some or all of the board’s high schools once a week until a new deal is reached.
This means the occasional teachers will not working in the schools those days, nor will they be paid.
“It means they’ll be on what people consider a ‘formal strike’ one day a week. That will begin this Friday,” Hallikas noted.
“[And] there will probably be quite a lot of support on the lines. A lot of the other educational unions are quite interested and are following this,” he added.
Hallikas said support will be coming from out-of-town, as well.
“It makes it kind of interesting,” he remarked. “It’s a unusual labour dispute in that occasional teachers just don’t go on strike. So there’s been quite a lot of interest across the province.”
The second level of sanctions will be in addition to the ones the occasional teachers first began back on Feb. 20.
During level-one sanctions, members work either a half-day or a full day, with a half-day consisting of two or less periods uninterrupted by lunch and a full day consisting of three periods or two periods which are interrupted by lunch.
No occasional performs supervision duties, perform on-calls, or covers mentoring periods—only the classroom work of the teacher they are replacing.
A member called in to replace a teacher for a full day will cover only the three periods on that teacher’s timetable and no other duties.
An occasional teacher called in for a full day or a half-day will not cover the classes of more than one teacher, and occasional teachers called in for a half-day will not cover an additional class from a different teacher to make up a full day.
Hallikas said the stepped up sanctions obviously mean there’s hasn’t been a new agreement between the occasional teachers and the public board since negotiations broke off a month ago.
“But I think everybody’s trying,” he stressed. “We have pretty good communication with the board and, in fact, I’ll be contacting them again this week to try and avert the whole thing.
“But there has been no change although we’ve been speaking back and forth,” he added.
“[And] if we do not reach an agreement within a reasonable amount of time, we will escalate our sanctions again,” warned Hallikas.
Jack McMaster, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, said late Monday that there’s informal discussions between himself, assistant superintendent of education Ian Simpson, Hallikas, and District 5B OTBU president Ron Erb.
“We’re looking at other possibilities, trying to resolve this, feeling each other out, if you wish, to find some kind of neutral ground in order to come some kind of resolution with the standoff,” noted McMaster.
“It’s moved very slowly,” he acknowledged. “I think we’ve purposely done it that way—and when I say we, I mean both sides—because we are truly trying to come to a resolution.
“And it’s very much based on a principle, and the principle isn’t money. We’re prepared to pay fair salaries. . . .
“The principle is that of wanting to be tied to the grid of the permanent teachers so every time the permanent teachers get a contract, they get a raise,” added McMaster.
“Our issue is if you’re going to negotiate with a group, you want to negotiate the whole contract. That’s what fair negotiations are,” McMaster continued.
“And so when it comes down to principles, often it’s hard to move beyond the principle you strongly believe in,” he noted. “That’s why it’s our hope we can sit down Andy and Ron and come up with an alternative solution.”
McMaster said the level one sanctions have been felt somewhat at Fort Frances High School, in that teachers under permanent contract have had to pick up time that occasional teachers have refused to cover.
The occasional teachers last month rejected an offer from the public board that included the same salary increase accepted by local elementary occasional teachers.
What the secondary teachers want is for their rate of pay to be tied to the salary grid for regular teachers.
The Lakehead and Superior-Greenstone boards already have settled with their occasional secondary teachers, agreeing to have their salaries tied to the grid.
Over the last several years, regular teachers’ wages have increased by 21 percent while occasional teachers’ wages have gone up only five percent.
Since 2000, local secondary occasional teachers’ wages have slipped from being the sixth best in the province to 26th our of 31.
While the current wage being offered by the board is acceptable, the occasional teachers’ wage eventually would drop over time in relation to regular teachers again unless the wage is tied to the salary grid, Hallikas argued.
Occasional teachers fill in for both short- and long-term periods when teachers are ill or absent. They possess the same qualifications as their counterparts.
The secondary occasional teachers have been in a legal strike position since late December. They had voted 100 percent in favour of strike action earlier that month.