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High school teachers to hold strike vote

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Local high school teachers will take a strike vote Wednesday after negotiations between their union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 5B, and the Rainy River District School Board last week failed to reach an agreement.

The teachers, without a contract since last fall, have been in negotiations with the board since then. The latest round of talks—this time with a conciliator—were held Jan. 27-28.

Brian Church, president of the local OSSTF Teachers Bargaining Unit, noted on the second day of the talks, the board only sent its legal counsel, sending the message—in his opinion—that there is no rush to negotiate.

“We haven’t had much movement at all,” said Church, adding there was a small agreement on working conditions previously. But since new provincial funding was announced in December in the wake of the Rozanski report, “we haven’t gotten anywhere.”

“We seem to be miles apart on financial issues,” said Church.

“Financially, there are benefits as well as wages,” he added. “It’s not just about salaries.”

Church confirmed the costs involved between wages and benefits total an increase of more than three percent. “Yes, that’s fair to say.”

Church also noted the Ontario Public School Board Association has set a limit to what it will allow member boards to accept in negotiations. That number is somewhere around the three percent suggested in the Rozanski report, he indicated.

“We look at how much the board was given and how much they have in reserves, and we’re just looking for a fair settlement,” Church remarked.

Church said the union has applied for a “no board” report, which is a document stating both sides have met in front of a conciliator and failed to reach an agreement.

Once that “no board” report has been filed, which Church expects will be by this Friday at the latest, the union then must wait 17 days before taking any job action.

But if the teachers vote to strike Wednesday, and the next round of negotiations (scheduled for Feb. 20 -21) fails, teachers could walk off the job as early as Feb. 24.

“If we get a strike vote that is high, we can use it at the negotiating table,” Church said. “When we do meet on Feb. 20 and 21, it is good to know where the membership stands and let the board know where the teachers stand.”

He said, at times, there is an sense of mistrust between the union and the board, and that the results of the strike vote will let the board know that the teachers are with the union.

“I expect a fairly strong mandate,” Church remarked. “By Monday [Feb. 24], we could be in a legal position to take action.”

But Warren Hoshizaki, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, was optimistic that negotiations would continue.

“We’re still negotiating,” he said, adding he couldn’t discuss details of the talks. “We set a date [to continue negotiations] on Feb. 20 and 21.”

The board will hold its regular monthly meeting here tomorrow night.

Church noted many areas of the province are seeing teachers already taking strike votes. Last Thursday, for instance, teachers in Thunder Bay (OSSTF District 6A) voted 92 percent in favour of strike action.

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