Teachers locked out
The Niagara Catholic District School Board locked out its elementary school teachers Monday after a marathon negotiating session failed to reach an agreement between the board and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.
“We are disappointed to find ourselves locked out,” said OECTA president Marie Balanowski.
“Especially given the negotiations are ongoing and the board could have rescinded the lockout notice.”
Balanowski said the lock out was an “unnecessary disruption for students and families.”
Parents received a recorded telephone message between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. Monday, informing them that Niagara Catholic’s 49 elementary schools were open but programming would be affected by the lockout.
Parents dropping off their children were met by picket lines of teachers.
A Niagara Falls woman on Monday posted a video to Facebook that shows her vehicle being blocked by several people at Loretto Catholic Elementary School after she had dropped her son off at daycare.
Loretto shares a building with Kate. S. Durdan Public School and a licensed daycare. In the video, the woman get into a heated confrontation with a female protester.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the woman is not a teacher at Loretto. One of the men standing with her is holding a Canadian Union of Public Employees flag.
By 3:30 p.m. Monday, the video had been shared more than 1,900 times.
“This isn’t just affecting the Catholic parents and students,” said the mother of a student at Kate S. Durdan.
“I respect their right to picket, but the public school students should not be impeded from getting to school. We are a different school board and are not crossing the picket lines.”
The atmosphere at St. John Bosco Catholic Elementary School in Port Colborne was more subdued.
“The teachers were doing their part in bringing awareness to their side of the negotiations,” said Miranda Travis, whose daughter attends St. John Bosco.
“The teachers were standing in an informal line across the school property parking lot. Students were walking past with no issue. The teachers were saying good morning to their students.”
Although parents were unable to get into the parking lot, Travis said there was “no anger or negativity coming from any of the teachers.”
“They were displaying themselves in a professionally dignified manner.”
There were some traffic delays reported at some schools. Niagara Regional Police were called out to assist at a Grimsby school.
“As with all labour disputes, we monitor the situation to ensure that things remain peaceful,” said NRP Const. Phil Gavin.
“This morning, as line protocols were being established, our Grimsby officers attended a local school to speak with the line/ picket captain regarding maintained movement of the traffic on the roadway.”
The picketers did not return in the afternoon.
A Niagara Falls resident, whose children attend St. Patrick Catholic Elementary School, opted to keep her children home Monday after she received a phone call from the board.
“I was floored by the fact that it took them until almost 8 a.m. to notify parents,” she said. “Keep in mind that some parents would already be at work.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said she plans on keeping her children at home until a settlement is reached.
“I do think they should provide us with some sort of school work material so the kids don’t fall too far behind.”
Meanwhile, both sides, together with a provincially-appointed mediator, returned to the negotiating table Monday.
Monetary items, including salary, have previously been settled.
John Crocco, Niagara Catholic’s director of education, said late Monday afternoon negotiations are continuing as does the lockout.
“Schools will be open to receive students and every effort will be made to ensure students are in a safe environment, but programming will be significantly affected.”
He said any updates on labour negotiations will be posted on the board’s website.
Balanowski said the union, which represents more than Niagara teachers, remains committed to “negotiating a fair agreement as soon as possible.”
The teachers have been working without a collective agreement since it expired in August 2014.
After six months of work-torule sanctions, the board notified the union earlier this month that teachers would be locked out as of March 20, if an agreement could not be reached.
The lock out affected about 14,700 elementary school students across the region. High schools with the Catholic board are not impacted by the labour disruption.
Teachers protest at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Elementary School in Fort Erie, Monday.