MSS teachers begin strike process with work to rule schedule

SUDBURY––The battle lines are drawn in the labour dispute between the Rainbow District School Board and its secondary school teachers as represented by their union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, but those battle lines face a no-fly zone dictated by the Ontario government, a fact causing some frustration for both sides.

But as of this past Monday, the union has upped the heat with a series of work-to-rule sanctions.

“The actions we have been informed of by the union involve on-calls, supervisory duties,” said Norm Blaseg, education director for the Rainbow District School Board. “The union has informed us that they will not be extending the day.”

Normally, if a student is experiencing difficulties and wants to stay late, teachers will make an effort to provide assistance.

Teachers have agreed to provide hallway supervision between classes. “That is really important to us,” said Mr. Blaseg, noting that the health and safety of students is a primary concern, a sentiment reflected by the teachers’ representatives.

Mr. Blaseg said that the Rainbow District School Board has had excellent communications with the OSSTF as to what can be expected.

The board has made arrangements to backfill supervisory needs with non-unionized staff members. Asked if the board was looking for community volunteers to step in and assist staff, Mr. Blaseg said “not at this time.”

Negotiations with the union are complicated by the fiat of the province, which has indicated that no memorandum of understandings (MOU) will be signed that overstep the bounds laid down by the province.

Although the board did have some demands that exceeded those provincial guidelines, Mr. Blaseg characterized those demands (or ‘strips,’ as the union refers to them) as normal in the course of negotiations. “It’s like any negotiations, they come to the table with their list and we come to the table with ours,” he said. “But we can’t change the MOU. Until things are resolved at the provincial level, we are both caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Both the board and the union describe themselves as being “cautiously optimistic” that the way forward to a resolution can be found. “There are five areas that the province has indicated they are looking favourably at,” said OSSTF President James Clyke. “I am pretty optimistic about that. If they are approved, then we might be able to use those agreements as a template.”

Elementary school teachers are not in a strike position yet, so there are as yet no ‘job actions’ in place at that level, although some elementary school teachers are making individual ‘political protests’ in areas that are not officially part of their jobs.

Mr. Blaseg noted that the board and its teachers are meeting with a conciliator in the coming week and a no-board finding is anticipated. He added that it is not a question yet of how far apart the board and the unions may be, but rather the questions involve outstanding issues between the teachers and the province. “Until those issues are resolved I am not sure what we can accomplish.”

Mr. Blaseg pointed out that the school board and the unions find themselves in “a position where we have to work together. We still have dates, we still meet, but there is not a lot that can happen because some of the options are being closed to us.”

“Our door is always open,” said Mr. Blaseg. “We hope that parents will hang in there. We remain hopeful.”

According to the OSSTF website, strike action for bargaining units in a legal strike position will commence on November 19, 2012 (actually the next day, as Monday was a professional development day).

The list of sanctions that the website said applies to all teacher and occasional teacher bargaining unit members includes that “occasional teacher members will follow the timetable of the teacher who they are replacing and will not undertake any additional duties including on call/supervision/additional period of teaching unless their current collective agreement provides pay for the additional assignment.”

Adult day school teachers “will only attend at staff, department or professional development meetings/events if their current collective agreement provides they be paid to do so.”

Teachers and occasional teachers in a legal strike position “will not attend staff meetings organize/attend department meetings, attend department head meetings, attend central (board) committee meetings/councils, or conduct co-op visits outside of regular school day hours. They also will not attend any professional development (PD time offered during school hours will be self-directed PD only), create professional development seminars or present at professional development seminars unless it is a part of the teachers’ duties in their role as a coordinator.” They also will not “attend professional learning communities (PLCs), complete annual learning plans, participate in framework visits, participate in any aspect of school improvement plans, complete ministry reports or participate in any activities associated with EQAO/OSSLT including administration of the tests.”

Teachers will not assist with “maintenance of school/work-related websites, distribute board materials/communications to students, on-call coverage/supervision, provide coverage for absent administrators, provide on call coverage for absent colleagues, accept any assignment to supervision in addition to regular classroom duties or in addition to the ongoing, unassigned supervision of student behaviour in hallways, etc., that is performed as a part of a teachers’ professional responsibility.” They will also not be accepting any acting vice principal assignments.

As to communications, teachers will not “attend open house/information sessions outside of regular school day, answer parental emails outside of the regular school day, participate in parent interviews outside of the regular school day, or provide progress reports (written reports beyond those provided at mid-term and end of term).”

Local bargaining units will also not submit student attendance, will not assist with administrative tasks during homeroom, will not distribute course selection materials/option sheets, will not participate in curriculum/course writing, will not collect textbooks at the end of the semester/school year, and will not participate in end-of-year school closing activities.

In addition, teachers may not be uploading marks or comments to Trillium (the provincial mark recording software).

Teachers will continue to: “provide instruction to students, engage in course preparation and marking. Members may continue to act as an associate teacher/accept teacher candidates, provide extra help to students.”

Michael Erskine