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School board moves to end teacher strike

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The Durham District School Board is going to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to get high school students back in the classroom.

The application, filed alongside the Rainbow and Peel school boards, says that the current strikes by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) are illegal as they are over issues the school boards have no control over.

“The current strike by OSSTF District 13 at the DDBS is legally required to relate to the specific local issues that have been raised through local bargaining,” states a news release. “It has become increasingly apparent through the language and action of the union leaders that these three strikes are related to the larger central issues and that OSSTF has put DDSB teachers on a local strike based on central issues.  That is not permitted under the new bargaining system.”

If the application is successful, the labour board could issue a cease and desist order, which would mean teachers would be moved off the picket line and back into the classroom.

Negotiations continue

Despite having negotiation sessions last week – the first since Durham’s high school teachers walked off the job four weeks ago – nothing has changed, says the president of the teachers’ union.

“We had a bargaining day on Friday, May 8, and there was very little progress and no real change in the board’s position of being unable to move forward in bargaining without seeing a provincial deal first,” Dave Barrowclough, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation’s District 13 – which represents Durham Region – told The Oshawa Express. “We’re spinning our wheels at a table, entering our fourth week of a strike, and they seem quite content to not bargain with us.”

Barrowclough says the bargaining date was set some time in late March, before the strike began.

“That date was set prior to the strike starting, and we weren’t going to give it up because we want to be at the bargaining table.”

According to a news update on the Durham District School Board’s website, the two parties are still apart on issues, such as timing of pay and grievance arbitration, but are working to get teens back in class before the summer break.

“There remains much work to be done to achieve a local deal, but we remain optimistic and are committed to finding a fair deal that gets students back to class,” the update reads.

Barrowclough says that while other bargaining dates set before the strike began are coming up, he wants the school board to take negotiations more seriously.

“We have two further dates that were set previously, and we’re willing…to bargain. My calendar is cleared. I’ll do nothing else for however long it takes, but we have to have somebody on the other side who’s willing to do the same thing, and that’s just not there,” he says.

Mike Barrett, the chair of the Durham District School Board, did not return The Express’ request for comment before press time.

Elementary labour action

Younger students across Durham Region may still be in the classroom, but public elementary school teachers are taking part in a labour action of their own.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has entered what it calls the first phase of its strike action. In this phase, teachers will not be taking part in provincial standardized testing for students, take part in staff or divisional meetings or write comments on report cards.

Gerard O’Neill, the president of the Durham chapter of the union, says ETFO started this measure after months of back and forth with the province went nowhere.

“We’re showing our displeasure with the provincial government, the Wynne government right now at the central bargaining table that we’re finishing off our ninth month of bargaining, and we don’t seem any closer to a resolution. In fact, every time we come back to the table, it seems like there’s something more draconian put on the table,” O’Neill tells The Oshawa Express. “After nine months, it doesn’t seem like there’s any interest in finding an agreement, so we have to show them that we’re displeased about that. We have various ways to do that, and one of those ways is to start our work to rule, and we’re aiming this directly at the provincial government.”

As is the case with the union representing high school teachers, the strife between the province and the elementary teachers’ union has been brewing since the days that Dalton McGuinty was premier.

“Back when Mr. McGuinty was still in power, they passed a whole variety of bills where they went in and modified our contracts. They took our sick days away from us, they did other various things that we had in our contracts, and they went in and legislated them away. That didn’t make us very happy,” he says. “Then they passed legislation that there will be two-tier bargaining. There will be local bargaining and there will be central bargaining. We didn’t want that to happen. We bargaining centrally, but because we wanted to; to be forced to was a whole different question. We didn’t want to be forced at that table.”

Education minister Liz Sandals called on the union to return to the bargaining table last week ahead of the start of the work-to-rule action.

“I understand that parents and students are concerned and I would encourage the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario to return to the central bargaining table as it is a place where difficult decisions belong,” she states in a news release. “While it is disappointing that ETFO has decided to withdraw some services, I am encouraged to hear that students will remain in the classroom and continue to learn.”