Im­posed con­tract pos­si­ble

Teach­ers union braces for leg­is­la­tion af­ter third of­fer re­jected

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Nova Sco­tia Teach­ers Union is con­sid­er­ing how to nav­i­gate its con­tract dis­pute with the prov­ince so it can avoid hav­ing the gov­ern­ment im­pose a set­tle­ment.

The prov­ince’s 9,300 pub­lic school teach­ers voted over­whelm­ingly to re­ject a ten­ta­tive agree­ment Thurs­day — the third en­dorsed by the union’s ex­ec­u­tive since con­tract talks be­gan in 2015.

Union pres­i­dent Li­ette Doucet said Fri­day the union was tak­ing stock of its op­tions — such as mod­i­fy­ing its work-to-rule job ac­tion, which is set to re­sume Mon­day, or invit­ing the gov­ern­ment back to the ta­ble for more con­cil­ia­tory talks.

Most ev­ery ac­tion avail­able to the union could be brought to a halt, Doucet said, if the gov­ern­ment de­cides to im­pose a con­tract on the union through leg­is­la­tion.

“We would hope that (the prov­ince) would be look­ing to come to a deal with us,’’ she said. “Leg­is­la­tion is one of the op­tions that the gov­ern­ment has and I don’t know if that’ll be the de­ci­sion that they make, but it is a pos­si­bil­ity.’’

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Karen Casey said in a state­ment Thurs­day that the gov­ern­ment will “con­sider the next step,’’ but did not elab­o­rate. Nova Sco­tia’s ed­u­ca­tion min­istry de­clined a re­quest for com­ment Fri­day.

Doucet said she does not see the vote against the lat­est deal as a sign of dis­sen­sion within the union’s ranks, but rather as fur­ther ev­i­dence of the gov­ern­ment’s un­will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate in good faith.

“I think that teach­ers rec­og­nize that their lead­er­ship fought a good fight at the ta­ble,’’ said Doucet. “They spoke loud and clear that it wasn’t enough. They’re not go­ing to see im­me­di­ate changes to their class­rooms.’’

With 100 per cent of the union’s mem­ber­ship tak­ing part in an elec­tronic vote, 78.5 per cent turned down the deal.

Pre­mier Stephen McNeil’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is into the fourth year of its man­date. He’s widely ex­pected to call an elec­tion this year mak­ing the teach­ers dis­pute an un­wel­come is­sue for the Lib­er­als to deal with.

Doucet said the union’s mem­ber­ship voted down the most re­cent con­tract be­cause of the prov­ince’s re­luc­tance to budge on key points of con­tention like wage in­creases, the long ser­vice award — a one-time payout upon re­tire­ment based on salary and the num­ber of years worked — and other ben­e­fits.

Doucet said pub­lic school teach­ers are also grow­ing im­pa­tient that the gov­ern­ment re­fuses to com­mit to tak­ing im­me­di­ate ac­tion to im­prove class­room con­di­tions. She said the lat­est con­tract of­fer would have had any “changes’’ bro­kered through a com­mit­tee or com­mis­sion — mean­ing im­prove­ments could take years.

“They don’t have any trust in this gov­ern­ment be­cause they’ve been dis­cussing th­ese is­sues for years,’’ she said. “If the gov­ern­ment were will­ing to take the steps to make th­ese kinds of im­prove­ments in the class­room right away, I think teach­ers would look at this con­tract dif­fer­ently.’’

The teach­ers have been with­out a con­tract since July 31, 2015 and ne­go­ti­a­tions started on Sept. 29, 2015. The teach­ers have been in a le­gal strike po­si­tion since Dec. 5, af­ter vot­ing 96 per cent in favour of strike ac­tion.

When the lat­est ten­ta­tive con­tract was reached Jan. 20, the teach­ers sus­pended their work-to-rule cam­paign. The job ac­tion was not pop­u­lar among many par­ents and stu­dents, given the fact that field trips, Christ­mas con­certs and sport­ing events had to be can­celled.

The union’s work-to-rule edict stip­u­lates teach­ers should only re­port for work 20 min­utes be­fore class starts and leave 20 min­utes af­ter the school day ends.

Doucet

Casey

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