Another round of formal negotiations between the Rainy River District School Board and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 5B Occasional Teachers’ Bargaining Unit ended without resolution Friday, which could lead to further sanctions by the teachers.
“We thought it was possible, or very probable, that we would get a deal,” said Andrew Hallikas, chief negotiator for the District 5B OTBU.
“We were very, very disappointed.”
Hallikas said the bargaining team would be speaking to members across the district this week—Rainy River on Monday, Fort Frances on Tuesday, and Atikokan today (Wednesday)—to report the results and “get input and guidance from our members on what our next step will be.”
“I am equally disappointed,” said Jack McMaster, director of education for the public board. “I’d like to think we were the reason that we came back to the table.
“It was our discussion that I think initiated the recall to the table.”
The two sides had not met formally since before the March Break.
“I felt that our suggestion was a very valid and good opportunity to bring this to resolution,” McMaster added. “I am quite surprised it didn’t come to resolution on Friday.”
The occasional teachers are asking that their rate of pay be tied to the salary grid for regular ones.
“The majority of the public boards in Ontario have settled for this,” Hallikas noted, including the Lakehead and Superior-Greenstone boards.
But McMaster said only about one-quarter of the boards in Ontario have agreed to tie occasional teachers’ salaries to the grid for regular ones, when taking into account the secondary, elementary, and Catholic teachers’ unions.
“Provincially, being tied to the grid isn’t that important,” he noted. “It’s not a huge trend. Many of those boards were tied to the grid in previous contracts.”
Having occasional teachers’ salaries tied to the grid would make the permanent teachers’ bargaining unit responsible for both sets of salaries.
“We believe a negotiation is a democratic process and requires looking at the whole package, not signing off portions of the package to other groups,” McMaster said.
“It comes down to a principle, the principal being do you negotiate a complete contract or not? And our trustees and senior admin are saying we want to negotiate a complete contract,” he added.
“We seem to be spending a whole lot of time talking about a principle that I don’t think is going to change on our side.”
Hallikas, meanwhile, said the local OTBU already has made concessions in their bargaining, but that the board has not reciprocated.
“We have now made three fairly substantial compromises in terms of our position, and we just don’t understand why the board isn’t interested in some sort of reasonable compromise with us, in view of the fact that this has nothing to do with money,” Hallikas said.
“It’s obvious to me that money is very important to them when they want the permanent teachers to negotiate that part of it for them,” McMaster countered.
“We have made two offers that we thought could be palatable to the union and in both cases it brought forth greater sanctions,” he continued.
“So I’m struggling with coming up with another suggestion because of the reaction that we’ve had, since both of our suggestions have brought on further sanctions.
“Hopefully, some suggestion will come from that side, too.”
“We continue to try to be creative and offer compromises,” said Hallikas. “From my point of view, from our point of view, I don’t see the board responding in kind.
“It’s pretty puzzling to us, and, of course, it’s quite stressful and very upsetting to our members.
“We’re just getting the impression that the board doesn’t have a lot of respect for their occasional teachers,” Hallikas added.
“In terms of valuing our employees, I can assure you over the years in my work, and in my present work, that we value every employee that we have,” McMaster stressed.
“We don’t devalue them in any way. And I thought that this solution was certainly demonstrating that.”
Occasional teachers will picket again tomorrow (Thursday), Hallikas said, though the nature of that picket had not been decided yet as of press time.
McMaster said the board remains optimistic a solution can be found.
“I’m hoping that we’ll continue to talk and we’ll find some kind of resolution,” he remarked. “But we’re going to have to be very careful about how we talk so that we’re not upsetting the apple cart.
“The rest of the contract, we would have no problem signing off with them on,” he noted.
The local occasional teachers rejected an offer from the public board back in February that included the same salary increase accepted by local elementary occasional teachers.