Strikes have begun; Board announces lock out

Rotating strikes began at the Thunder Bay Catholic District school board office on Victoria Ave., Tuesday.

Rotating strikes that were set to begin today by some Thunder Bay Catholic elementary teachers were to impact three senior elementary schools first, board officials said Monday.

The affected schools are Bishop Gallagher, Bishop E.Q. Jennings and Pope John Paul II, according to a Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board labour negotiations update.

The board, which has 18 schools in total, said that in the event of strikes, “it may have no choice but to lock out teachers (and) Instructions will be provided to parents in advance in the event of a lockout.”

Affected schools won’t be open and parents will have to make their own child-care arrangements, the board said earlier.

There was no word late Monday regarding the possibility of a new round of negotiations that might avoid any strikes or lockouts.

The board said the prolonged impasse with its 380 teachers became “inevitable” last week after two days of last-ditch talks with a provincial mediator failed to produce a tentative new contract.

The teachers have been without a contract for two years, even though they have long agreed to accept total wage increases of 1.5 per cent in negotiations held directly with the province.

The union and the board have been deadlocked over a union demand for written assurances that consideration be given to experienced teachers when internal job postings become available.

On Monday, the board said it continued to oppose binding arbitration, one of the options to settle the dispute “encouraged” by Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.

“We do not agree to let an arbitrator substitute his or her judgment about the importance of these criteria to the children in our system,” the board said.

The board admitted that some parents have questioned that position.

Asked Monday if the binding arbitration process could be imposed on the two parties, a ministry spokesman said it “could be introduced through new legislation.”

So far, the spokesman said, “the government has no involvement in local negotiations and respects the labour relations process.”

For its part, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association has said it is willing to submit to arbitration, calling it “a risk both sides take.”

Local association president Aldo Grillo said the union’s demand to have some say in where teachers are placed is not unusual and is allowed by other boards.

All it means, Grillo said, is that a teacher would be chosen from a list of, say, three qualified staffers with more than a few years experience.

“Unfortunately,” said Grillo, the Thunder Bay Catholic board “has a track record of designating jobs to teachers with as little as nine month’s experience.”

When talks to end the impasse still seemed hopeful, Hunter said:

“We want parents to know that our government shares their concerns about a potential labour disruption and the impact this would have (about 5,500) students.”

It wasn’t clear Monday how strikes or lockouts might impact the board’s Reach Ahead program for its senior elementary students.

Following is a link to an open letter from the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board addressed to parents dated February 6:

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