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Teachers held to same wages

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Seven Oaks teachers have lost their bid to receive higher wage increases than almost every other teacher in Manitoba.

Had they been successful, it could have established a precedent for which teachers could have aimed in their next round of bargaining.

An arbitration panel that sat in June has ruled in favour of Seven Oaks School Division on a new four-year contract from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2014. The teachers will receive the same percentage increases for which 34 of 37 divisions' teachers had already settled.

They'll get two 1.5 per cent phased-in increases for the 2010-11 school year, and two per cent increases effective in September 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Seven Oaks teachers had wanted the arbitration panel to award retroactive parity with Louis Riel School Division's teachers before the start of the new deal, which would have meant an immediate raise of $1,127 for a typical teacher with 10 years of experience. That would have increased education property taxes $46 a year for the owner of a Seven Oaks home assessed at $250,000.

The teachers argued they had fallen behind other metro divisions, faced greater challenges of diversity than teachers elsewhere in the city and were working in a division undergoing massive growth when most Manitoba school divisions are losing enrolment.

"To the division, it's not surprising," Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O'Leary said Friday. "It's consistent with the pattern of settlements across the province."

While Seven Oaks is a little lower in pay, O'Leary said, "We have a stronger benefit plan than many divisions. On balance, our teachers take home as much as anyone."

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said the arbitration ruling was consistent with what's happening across the province. "It's not particularly shocking," he said.

The sides had disputed whether Seven Oaks teachers have better benefits than teachers whom they trail in wages.

"We find that the difference in total compensation between this division's teachers and teachers in Louis Riel and Winnipeg is not material," the panel said. "We are satisfied that Seven Oaks teachers are faced with the similar demands, challenges and complexities as teachers in other metro divisions."

The arbitration board said there was an overwhelming pattern of identical settlements across the province, an almost-unanimous pattern not seen previously, and ruled there was no compelling reason to deviate.

"On a total compensation basis, the gap between Louis Riel and Seven Oaks is not substantial or as great as alleged by the association. It has been recognized by arbitrators that there will not necessarily be exact uniformity between divisions in terms of teacher salaries," said the arbitration panel.

"We have to take into account the lower tax base in the division because of the lack of a commercial component. The uncontradicted evidence is that if there was to be an increase in salaries over the pattern, the division would have to cut the number of teachers. Of course, this would not be a desired outcome."

The arbitration panel noted, given economic conditions, "One could say that teachers on the whole fared better than some public-sector workers."

The Seven Oaks teachers were awarded an additional day of family leave each year.

As of Friday, the Manitoba School Boards Association website listed only two outstanding contracts -- Minnedosa-based Rolling River School Division is scheduled for conciliation with its teachers on Tuesday, and Dauphin-based Mountain View S.D. and its teachers go to two weeks of arbitration in September 2013. Both of those contracts expired June 30, 2010.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 B4

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