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Occasional teachers back strike action

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Occasional teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels here have voted 100 percent in favour of strike action as negotiations with the Rainy River District School Board move forward at a slow pace.

“There was quite a lot of disappointment. We were hoping it would have been a ratification vote for a tentative agreement,” Emily Noble, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said of the strike vote.

“I think a lot of the boards are just dragging their feet. They want to wait and see what everybody else is doing,” she added.

Andrew Hallikas, chief negotiator for the local Secondary Occasional Teacher Bargaining Unit, agreed there is a wait-and-see approach.

“We think for us to get a settlement, it might be necessary for some other settlements to come in,” he remarked.

“There’s two bargaining units—secondary and elementary—in the Kenora and Dryden region. They’re also going through the process,” he added.

Local occasional elementary teachers also will meet with the public school board again next month.

“Any settlement in amongst the four could affect the other settlements,” Hallikas explained.

The occasional secondary teachers and the board reached an impasse on Friday, and asked their conciliator for a no-board report.

The report grants a 17-day waiting period, after which time either side could impose sanctions.

In this case, sanctions are unlikely, Hallikas noted. “We have no intent of imposing sanctions at this time,” he said.

“Negotiations are a process,” said Jack McMaster, education director for the local public board. “I think we we’re at a time when we both agreed maybe we needed to take some time and walk away from the table for a while.

“I think the fact we [issued] a joint press release is an indication the two parties respect one another very much and we will continue to look for a fair deal for both parties,” he added.

“Both sides are bargaining well and relations are good,” said Hallikas.

“I feel as Andrew [Hallikas] does, that there’s a resolution there and it’s just a matter of us continuing to talk,” agreed McMaster.

There are roughly 80 elementary occasional teachers in the district and 40-50 secondary ones.

Hallikas said the numbers tend to fluctuate because of the nature of the job.

“We’re transient,” he explained, noting many occasional teachers who work in the secondary system also will work as occasionals in the elementary system.

“The system can’t run without these people,” Hallikas stressed, noting when high school sports teams are away, there can be as many as 10-12 occasional teachers in the school covering for absent regular teachers.

Secondary occasional teachers will meet again with the board on Feb. 2 while the elementary teachers will meet with the board again Jan. 23.

The occasional teachers—who fill in for both short- and long-term periods when regular teachers are ill or absent—have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2004.

Occasional teachers have the same qualifications as regular ones.

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