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What happens in Minnedosa may not stay in Minnedosa

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The additional money that teachers in Minnedosa and area are getting in their long-awaited contract may not seem all that significant, but bear with me — even if you’re not a member of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation or a Tory looking for any scraps that can be somehow tied to the NDP.

After all, we’re talking 138 teachers out of 15,000 in Manitoba. But hang in there.

The Rolling River Teachers Association and the division are signing a new contract today retroactive to July 1, 2010, and which expires June 30, 2014.

It’s identical in all financial ways but one to the contracts that every other bargaining unit signed long ago. The deal heads off arbitration scheduled to start later this month.

Every other division long ago settled four-year deals that gave two 1.5 per cent increases in the last six months of 2010, and two per cent in September of 2011, 2012, and 2013. There were some local variations on working conditions, usually involving prep time, but the money was identical across the province.

Previously, RRSD and the union had declined to talk about the points on which the two sides were unable to reach agreement.

If you read the RRTA newsletter  you’ll see that union president Daniel Kiazyk, a teacher at Rivers Collegiate, will be canvassing the 138 members to see why this deal received 81 per cent approval, while previous packages were rejected.

Kiazyk points out that the union negotiating team "realized for members the only bump to a teacher salary grid in Manitoba."

That’s the key, that salary bump that no one else got.

Division superintendent Reg Klassen says that the money was concentrated at the lowest ends of the salary grid, to help recruit and retain new young teachers, and amounted to an increase of 0.4 per cent on the overall salary package.

After some initial confusion to which I’ll get in a bit, Kiazyk now says it amounts to 0.47 per cent.

Doesn’t sound like much, eh? But no one else in Manitoba got it, and every one of those contracts expires June 30, 2014.

Will all the other bargaining units begin negotiations with demanding an increase to base pay of 0.47 per cent before getting to the increase they’d already planned to put on the table?

That’s certainly been the pattern in Manitoba — what one division’s teachers get, everyone else wants. And trustees know that once one school board agrees, it’s a tough sell to get arbitrators to deny that money to everyone else.

Short pause here — nowhere in this do I say the teachers don’t deserve the money, though, it goes without saying, that won’t stop teachers from accusing me of attacking them for the umpteenth time.

Go back more than a decade, when Mystery Lake trustees in Thompson were the first to pay teachers three per cent, which was intended to be an incentive to work in the north. That 3.0 per cent quickly became the floor for all other negotiations in Manitoba.

Over the next few years, divisions began agreeing to more than 3.0, such as 3.9 per cent in River East Transcona and 4.82 per cent in Louis Riel, which wanted to catch up or surpass other city divisions so it could recruit the brightesty new teaching prospects. Some divisions added cash bonuses that mounted to more than an additional one per cent.

The race to the top was on.

Come 2010, and the provincial government was into imposing or preaching restraint, depending on its control over particular public workers. Remember those publicly-paid employees in MGEU, the nurses, the university and college employees, who had their salaries frozen in the first year or two of their new deals?

The government left the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, its biggest fan club, free of imposed settlements, but still told the trustees to keep down the settlements.

Flin Flon SD was the first to settle at the four years amounting to 9.3 per cent more, compounded. Senior people in FFSD told me recently that the provincial government was quite miffed with them.

I’ve asked new Education Minister James Allum what he thinks of that extra money in Rolling River, and what the financial implications might be for the next round of bargaining, given that teachers’ salaries and benefits are by far the largest cost within the $2.1 billion public education system.

Alas, no response yet from the ubiquitous aide to the minister.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if those 138 teachers are really clear on what they’ve accepted.

When I first talked to Kiazyk, he told me that the salary bump was 2.3 per cent, which set off all kinds of alarm bells for me.

The money, he said, would become part of the contract on its final day on June 30, 2014, and show up on the first pay cheque un September of 2014.

What he said was: "We have the provincial settlement rate of 3, 2, 2, and 2, with a bump in salary at September of 2014 of 2.3 per cent. That’s a part of the agreement."

And when I pursued it to ensure that what would be an extraordinary special payment was indeed accurate, he told me, "When we start next September, the bump would already be in place. When we come back in September, we’ll see 2.3 per cent."

Gosh, that certainly caught my attention, and I fired off emails asking key players for reaction.

When Klassen told me the money was roughly one-sixth of what the union was saying, I had to issue an embarrassing Rosanne Roseanneadana ‘never mind’ (ask your grandparents).

I put to Kiazyk what Klassen had said, and this time Kiazyk said the increase was 0.47 per cent, and that what he’d meant by 2.3 per cent in September of 2014 was a combination of the 0.47 per cent salary bump and the two per cent raise the teachers would have been receiving since September of 2013.

That confused me even more, but Kiazyk has yet to get back to me in my efforts at clarification.

So, do all 138 teachers in Rolling River agree that they understand that 0.4 or 0.47 per cent at the bottom of the salary scale is what they approved?

 

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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