Manitoulin Secondary School teachers on strike and off the job

Secondary school teachers at Manitoulin Secondary School take to the picket line outside the school Monday morning. The job action is part of a rolling series of strikes that is escalating as talks with the province drag on.

Rainbow board second in Ontario to face secondary teachers’ walkout

M’CHIGEENG—Manitoulin Secondary School hallways were silent Monday morning as secondary school teachers with the Rainbow District School Board joined colleagues in Durham in taking to the picket lines after failing to reach a settlement with the Ontario government on monetary issues. Elementary school teachers are slated to join their secondary school compatriots on May 10 after receiving a no board report in their negotiations.

Negotiations with teachers are more complicated these days as the process has a two-tier structure. All monetary items, such as class size, salary and sick leave, are being negotiated with the province, while non-monetary issues, such as grievance procedures or unpaid leaves, are negotiated at the board level.

“Although the RDSB is voicing its desire to continue talking locally, the reality of the two-tier system has been cited as an impediment to making meaningful progress at that level until the province-wide negotiations have come to a resolution,” noted OSSTF/FEESO vice president Harvey Bischof. Mr. Bischof is also chair of the local negotiating team.

As a result of the job action announced by the OSSTF/FEESO District 3, which represents secondary teachers and secondary occasional teachers, the RDSB has announced in a press release that it has been “forced to cancel all instructional programs for students in Grades 9 to 12.”

“The board came to the table ready to negotiate and responded to all union proposals.  The union chose not to respond and advised the board, through the mediator, that the parties were at an impasse, they did not see any possibility of progress or a settlement, and that there would be a strike as of Monday, April 27, 2015,” said RDSB Chair Doreen Dewar in the release. “In fact, the union suggested the time would be better spent preparing for the strike.”

Ms. Dewar said she was extremely disappointed that OSSTF – District 3 has chosen to withdraw their services locally. “We believe progress was possible and that our time would be better spent negotiating,” she said. “The union, however, did not come back to the table to respond. They also advised that they would be cancelling the next day of bargaining, effectively shutting the door on any opportunity to move forward.”

“Our students and their families are caught in a dispute that is really between OSSTF and the province,” continued Ms. Dewar in the release. “We value our secondary teachers in the classroom and, in the best interest of students, we encourage OSSTF – District 3 to join us in resuming local negotiations as quickly as possible.” Ms. Dewar also thanked the Ministry of Labour and the mediator for granting the board’s request to provide the parties with assistance at the bargaining table.

A press release from District 3 of the OSSTF/FEESO said that it “is disappointed to report that negotiations with the Rainbow District School Board have failed to result in an agreement and high school teachers and occasional teachers will be on strike as of Monday, April 27.”

The release, issued under the imprint of Mr. Bischof, alleged “the employer’s refusal to engage in real negotiations today has made it clear that job action is inevitable. With this in mind and out of respect for our members, parents and students, the union is announcing Monday’s strike action now so preparations for the closure of schools can be made.”

“Our teachers would prefer to be in class with their students than on picket lines,” stated District 3 President James Clyke. “But this employer’s unwillingness to negotiate in any meaningful way has really left us no option. It is clear that this board has completely allied itself with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) plan to frustrate bargaining at local tables. It leaves us questioning whose interests they’re really serving with this approach.”

[quote_right]“This decision was made at the provincial level. This strike is out of our hands.”[/quote_right]

Manitoulin RDSB Trustee Larry Killens said that “speaking as a trustee on the board, not for the board, there is no question that I do not want this strike.”

Mr. Killens said that he supports RDSB Chair Doreen Dewar’s position that the decision to go on strike was not made locally. “This decision was made at the provincial level. This strike is out of our hands.”

“While the RDSB has continuously proclaimed that they ‘value and respect their secondary teachers’ it has shown no willingness to bargain, to exchange positions, to entertain counter-proposals, or seriously consider any of the priorities presented by District 3 on behalf of its members. Under these circumstances, disruption could not be avoided,” said Mr. Bischof, who is also chair of the local negotiations team.

In the meantime, the RDSB also advised that buses for secondary students will not operate and that buses will continue their routes for elementary students only.

Dual credits where high school students are attending Cambrian College will however, continue.

Despite the strike, the board has indicated that community use of schools (in the evenings and on weekends) will proceed as scheduled.

Mr. Killens has said that after a number of calls from local parents, he is working with parents and clergy to set up study centres where students can continue directed studies to hone their study skills “in local churches and municipal meeting rooms.” There are a lot of considerations that have to be addressed before this can come to fruition cautioned Mr. Killens. “There are transportation issues, liability concerns, insurance concerns, several things that have to be considered.”

Mr. Killens said that he was afraid that striking teachers might “take offense. That is not my intent.”

He expressed concern that the strike could well be protracted. “I read in some of the southern papers that the next meeting isn’t even scheduled until mid-May,” he said, adding that the elementary schools are looking at going out on May 10.

The RDSB release suggested that students “continue their learning through self-directed study” and indicated that “resources are available through the RDSB website at rainbowschools.ca.”

“I support any decision that the RDSB makes if it is in the best interests of the students of the board,” said Mr. Killens.

The OSSTF has named five other boards it will target for local strikes. Those boards include Peel, Halton, Waterloo, Ottawa and Lakehead/Thunder Bay. Peel teachers will be heading off the job by May 4 if a deal is not reached by then.