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WSD tables two-year wage freeze for teachers

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THE Winnipeg School Division has offered its teachers a two-year wage freeze followed by two more years of a one per cent raise each year as part of a lowball contract teachers haven't seen since the 1990s.

It's an offer unlikely to impress teachers who've grown accustomed to annual raises of three per cent and up.

And it sets the bar for tough bargaining across Manitoba, where all but one division's teachers have been without a contract since last summer at the same time as the Selinger government is leaning on trustees to cap spending and freeze education property taxes.

A confidential Winnipeg Teachers Association newsletter obtained by the Free Press says the division has offered zero, zero, one, and one on a four-year deal retroactive to last July 1.

The WSD also wants clawbacks, including a reduction of teachers' lunch hour from the current 55 minutes to half an hour, says the union.

The WTA says the union has already rejected the division's demands on 11 workplace issues, including preparation time, report cards, transfers, professional development, and involuntary absenteeism. The union says it's ready to go to arbitration.

"I'm not in a position to comment on any of that. We choose not to bargain through the media," WTA president Dave Najduch said Monday.

Like all teachers across Manitoba, WTA members have received a base salary increase of at least three per cent a year for close to a decade, sometimes accompanied by additional cash.

Najduch refused to say what the WSD's starting offers have been in recent years.

School board chairwoman Suzanne Hrynyk refused to confirm any of the union's claims.

"All I'm prepared to offer is that we've reached an impasse. No, we've not been at conciliation," Hrynyk said.

The only division that's settled with its teachers this year, Louis Riel, has a deal for two raises of 1.5 per cent, which will leave base salaries 3.03 per cent higher as of June 30 this year.

And WSD trustees have already settled with several non-teaching unions for deals through June 30, 2013.

The WSD will pay its clerical staff, custodians, teachers' aides, and community liaison workers two phased-in increases of 1.375 per cent each this year, two phased-in increases of 1.25 per cent each next year, and another two phased-in increases of 1.25 per cent each in the final year of the deal.

Asked if teachers would accept far less of a pay increase than custodians, Najduch laughed and said that was a question he definitely "wouldn't touch with a barge pole."

As for whether trustees expect teachers to take less of a raise than non-teachers, Hrynyk said, "I really will decline commenting on that -- I will not negotiate through the media."

Hrynyk said several divisions are going to arbitration, but dates are far in the future.

An official said the River East Transcona School Division and the River East Transcona Teachers Association are arranging arbitration dates for next fall, a hearing that would not begin until at least 15 or 16 months after the last contract expired.

Capping spending and freezing taxes are especially tough when school boards have to budget for a couple of years' worth of retroactive pay increases.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2011 A3

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