Tuesday’s strikers faced lockout Wednesday

Teachers from Bishop Gallagher, Bishop E.Q. Jennings and Pope John Paul II senior elementary schools lined the sidewalk in front of the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board office on Victoria Avenue Tuesday.

About 75 Thunder Bay Catholic elementary teachers who went on a one-day strike Tuesday said they were shocked to learn they will be locked out this morning.

Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board said the teachers won’t be allowed in at the three schools where they work, even though they weren’t planning on being on the picket line today.

“The board has been clear with the (teachers’) union that the safety of our students is our priority and that if rotating strikes were initiated at any of the (board) schools, we would respond by locking out,” said a board news release.

The teachers’ union claimed the move is “punitive” and said the board should have given more notice. It warned more rotating strikes could occur later this week, but didn’t say what schools would be affected.

The schools affected by today’s lockout - Bishop Gallagher, Bishop E.Q. Jennings and Pope John II - will remain open to students.

“Parents may wish to consider alternate childcare arrangements during this lockout,” the board said. “Every effort will be made to ensure your child is in a safe environment, but programming will be greatly affected.”

The lockout is to last just one day, the board said. The board’s other 15 elementary schools aren’t impacted.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association Thunder Bay unit president Aldo Grillo said the lockout is “vindictive,” since it’s not unusual for teachers to return to work the day after a rotating strike.

“The board wants to punish this group of teachers who went on strike (Tuesday), plain and simple,” said Grillo.

The board said the lockout is being implemented for safety reasons.

“Rotating strikes do not allow staff the appropriate time to supervise the children,” said a board spokesman.

The board also warned parents about the potential for picket lines being set up in front of the three schools today. Grillo said the union hadn’t decided if it will picket the schools.

On Tuesday, teachers only picketed in front of the board’s office on Victoria Avenue.

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.

The teachers have already agreed to an overall wage increase of 1.5 per cent as a result of earlier negotiations held directly with the province.

The board continues 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 has 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.”

The legislature doesn’t resume sitting until Feb. 21.

For its part, the teachers’ union has said it is willing to submit to arbitration, calling it “a risk both sides take.”

No new talks were scheduled Tuesday. Two days of talks last week with a provincial mediator failed to produce a tentative agreement.

The board has 380 teachers and about 5,500 students at its 18 elementary schools.

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