Elementary teachers and the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board have failed to reach a settlement during two days of mediated talks this week.

“We are extremely frustrated,” Aldo Grillo, president of the Thunder Bay Elementary Unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), said Thursday. “We have been bargaining this contract since the fall of 2015 and to have it break down at this stage shows a total lack of respect for the teachers.”

The Thunder Bay Catholic Elementary Teachers have been in a legal strike position since last June. Teachers have now advised the board that they will be escalating their sanctions and start rotating strikes. The school board has said it will lock out teachers rather than subject students to rotating strikes which it says will present safety issues.

Teachers also said Thursday that they will provide the board with 24 hours notice before moving to a full withdrawal of service at any school.

The union says that there are no monetary items to be negotiated locally. The key issue has been the criteria used for the internal movement of teachers already employed by the board.

"The board continues to refuse to provide the same kind of staffing criteria that is already in place in 15 or more Catholic School boards in the province or for other employee groups in this board," the teachers say.

“It is shame that something like this is going to disrupt the education of the students,” said Grillo.

For its part, the board issued a statement later Thursday morning saying it is unfortunate the two sides have reached an impasse.

While the board says it has reached agreement on a number of items that fall within the scope of local school board collective bargaining, the one topic that remains unresolved is "the board’s ability to choose teachers to fill vacancies who have all the reasonable experiences and relevant criteria to best serve our students. The board believes that the best schools are those where the teachers and staff are best able to respond to the unique needs of the school community."

The board says it takes great care in assigning teachers to schools, "and this is one of the reasons why we are amongst the top school boards in the province.

"In order to ensure the very best school experience for students, the board has proposed a process to fill vacant teaching positions that would allow us to consider reasonably related criteria based on teaching experience and other experiences as long as it’s reasonably related, and the needs of the entire system of 18 schools.

“The union’s bargaining committee unfortunately does not share our views," the board statement continues, "and is continuing to seek to limit our ability in this area. This, despite the fact, that it was agreed to adopt a new decision-making process involving senior staff and despite that the collective agreement provides the union the right to challenge the board’s application of the process.”

In a letter to parents last month, the board said it will not agree to terms that hinder its ability to best serve its students.

The board’s release goes on to say that the union’s bargaining committee has made it clear that teachers will commence rotating strikes in short order.

“The safety of students is our top priority, one which cannot be ensured under rotating OECTA strikes. (So) after careful and difficult consideration, the board has determined that in order ensure the safety of our students; the board will have no choice but lock out the teachers following any rotating strike.

“It is the board’s hope that a negotiated settlement is reached prior to any labour disruption and remains available to meet with the union,” the release said.

The Thunder Bay Elementary Unit of OECTA represents approximately 380 members in 18 Catholic elementary schools in the City of Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay board’s largest workgroup.

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