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Teachers’ union ‘optimistic’ about reaching settlement

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Local high school teachers started phase one of their job action today after contract talks with the Rainy River District School Board broke down last Thursday.

But Brian Church, president of the bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation 5B, remains optimistic a settlement eventually will be released.

“Basically, we hit an impasse,” Church said of the stalled talks, adding no date has been set to return to the bargaining table.

“I think the board is waiting to see what happens across the rest of the province,” he noted.

“All 31 branches [of the OSSTF] have been negotiating. Two have reached agreements, and I heard a third one might have but that still has to be ratified.

“We’re still optimistic we’ll get a settlement,” added Church.

But if that agreement will meet the local teachers’ request for a five percent wage increase in the current school year, Church couldn’t say.

Church stressed the beginning of job action by high school teachers in Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Atikokan will not affect any classes or extracurricular activities.

“We will be doing what we’ve be mandated to do contractually,” he remarked. “We don’t want to disrupt things for the students at this point.”

The teachers have been in a legal strike position since midnight on Feb. 21.

In a press release issued Friday, the public school board said contract talks “collapsed” when the union rejected its final offer.

The board said its proposal offered the teachers a choice of either a one-year interim agreement of three percent (retroactive to Sept. 1, 2002) or a two-year settlement of three percent (retroactive to Sept. 1, 2002) and another three percent starting Sept. 1, 2003.

The interim offer would give teachers an immediate salary increase, with the ability to negotiate in several months once future provincial funding is known.

The second alternative—with a six percent salary hike over two years—would bring the maximum salary for a secondary school teacher to $75,464.

Both proposals provided no reductions to the existing benefit plan and retirement gratuity entitlement in the collective agreement, the board had said.

The board said its offer included the entire three percent salary increase the provincial government provided to all boards for the 2002-03 school year.

OSSTF left the bargaining table while rejecting both offers, the board said, adding no counter offer was presented.

The teachers, who have been working without a contract since the fall, voted more than 98 percent in favour of strike action after talks last month failed to reach an agreement.

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