OSSTF, school board still at odds

Heather Latter

After making their presence known at last month’s Rainy River District School Board meeting, and then picketing outside the board office last week, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (District 5B) is no closer to reaching a local deal with the board.
While specific issues being negotiated can’t be made public, the secondary school teachers have asked for more respect from the board.
“You know how they always say [they’re] bargaining in good faith?” noted OSSTF local president Kent Kowalski during a picket staged by more than 60 OSSTF members last Tuesday afternoon.
“Well, that’s just the technical term that is the minimum requirement by, which just means agreeing to meet,” he remarked.
“Now what we’d like to take from it is a more liberal interpretation where there is respect for local priorities and have them addressed at the bargaining table.”
But the school board maintains it always has showed secondary school teachers respect.
“As we recognize excellence within schools across the district, we, this board, and its administrators acknowledge that teachers are essential partners in the day-to-day operations of the board in meeting the goals and commitments of its vision, mission, and strategic plan and, thus, to the overall success of our students,” board chair Dianne McCormack said during last Tuesday evening’s regular board meeting.
“We recognize the challenges of teaching, and the lengths to which teachers go to meet and overcome those challenges,” she noted.
“Because we recognize the demanding and important role teachers play, we ensure that we provide them with numerous supports for both personal and professional development and well-bring,” said added.
McCormack said the board is very concerned about developing and maintaining relationships.
“We value, celebrate, and respect all teachers for what they can and do achieve with and for students in our schools and across the district, and for the engagement and partnerships they build with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators,” she stressed.
“The board sincerely wants to strengthen its partnerships, and continue to develop and enhance relationships with its teachers, students, parents, support staff, and community partners,” she added.
Kowalski noted there are more than 30 districts in the province and they are just one of four without a deal.
“Our priorities do not take away from the running of the schools or programs,” he said. “If anything, they’ll enhance it because our issues are totally about the treatment of employees.
“By addressing our local priorities, it can only improve the working conditions of teachers, which are learning conditions for students.”
Kowalski stressed OSSTF members want a local deal based on local priorities.
“It has nothing to do with money, it has nothing to do with class size, it has nothing to do with all the regular structure,” he remarked.
“This is all about the understanding of how teachers are treated in an employer/employee relationship,” Kowalski added.
“What happens in these scenarios, what happens in those scenarios, access to this, access to that—it’s that kind of stuff.
“What we’re asking for is on par with all the other districts that have settled all around us,” he noted.
Kowalski reiterated they are looking for respect of local priorities, respect for teachers, and respect at the bargaining table.
“It is frustrating when our employer won’t give us the same improvements that are found elsewhere in the province,” he said, noting the turnout for last week’s picket was high.
“Most of the signs that are taken are the ones that say respect,” he said.
“It’s to send a message that we’re very frustrated with the lack of movement.”
But McCormack suggested both parties are on the same side.
“We are all here for the same reason—to do our job and do it well,” she reasoned.
“In order to perform to our greatest capacity, however, mutual respect between all partners is essential,” she added.
“Just as the board acknowledges the expertise, essential qualities, and abilities that teachers bring to their positions, so, too, must all stakeholders acknowledge that the board and senior administration also have very specific jobs to do,” McCormack said, adding members of the school board have specific roles and responsibilities and bring their own knowledge, experience, and expertise to their positions.
“In fact, we use our specific abilities to support teachers in their very important and very challenging roles on the front lines in our schools,” she stressed.
“Therefore, on behalf of the board and administration, I want to state unequivocally today [Feb. 2], as has been done in other words at other times, that the Rainy River District School Board sincerely appreciates and highly respects teachers, both secondary and elementary, for the dedicated professionals that they are.”
Board vice-chair Michael Lewis acknowledged the OSSTF’s recent demonstrations.
“We had a very crowded, polite, and quiet sit-in at our board meeting last month [January] and a bunch of respectful and polite picketers today as we came to this board meeting,” he noted, admitting he’s not quite sure what to make of the picketing or the sit-in that occurred.
“No doubt they are a depiction of frustration that there’s been not a conclusion to the protracting negotiations between the OSSTF and the board.
“Neither party needs any lessons in bargaining, but it is within the bargaining rights of either party to say ‘yes’ or to say ‘no’ to particular requests or proposal put forth by either party at the bargaining table,” Lewis explained.
“Both sides have done that, and now both sides are saying ‘no’ to any final issues that are at the table.
“A sit-in, if that’s what it was last month, is not going to solve the situation,” he warned.
Lewis suggested the contract that existed prior to September, 2014 could be amended by agreements that are reached by the provincial central bargaining table, as well as those that have been reached so far by the local bargaining table.
“Not everyone would necessarily agree with that perhaps, least of all the people who sat in and picketed,” he conceded.
“My hope is the time for signatures to be applied to what has been agreed to comes very soon so secondary school teachers, school and board administrators, students, and the students’ parents can go back to what can be considered normal life in a secondary school,” Lewis said.
Secondary teachers are continuing their partial withdrawal of services that began Dec. 9, which includes not providing comments on report cards.
As of press time, no dates are scheduled for the two parties to return to the table.