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A teacher talks bargaining

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As I’ve said before, school trustees planning their March 15 budgets have to set money aside for next academic year’s teachers contracts and retroactive raises in pay, new increments, and possibly new benefits payable as of this July 1.

Every teachers’ contract in the province expires June 30, unprecedented in recent memory.

School boards are reluctant to say what they’re setting aside, and the teachers’ union won’t say what it’s asking.

But here at least is a little insight on the teachers’ approach to bargaining from Tim Breen, vice-president of the River East Transcona Teachers Association, in the most recent RETTA Record newsletter.

Not to take it out of context, but Breen does make reference to the settlement at U of M, and the U of W bargaining that was concluding at his time of publication. The faculty associations at both universities settled for three-year deals that were slightly different, but both ended up with a raise of a compounded 7.1 per cent. That’s more than the 6.1 per cent compounded the teachers have made over the last three years.

Certainly, Breen refers to other provinces in which the teachers have not done as well, but his focus is clearly on what Manitoba public employees are getting.

And read that bit about teachers not being able to use the usual strategy, which is to reach deals one at a time, so the best parts of each settlement become the starting point for the next bargaining unit.

Here’s what Breen says in the newsletter, and, as always, school boards and union bargaining units, feel free to negotiate through the media:

"It has been a little while since I took the time to write to you about bargaining. As we have just presented and had council approve the opening package and are currently in the process of finalizing everything to open negotiations this year, I thought now would be a good time to do so. There have also been a lot of things happening around Canada in respect to bargaining that I think are important to highlight.

Let’s start off locally. Here in Manitoba we have 38 teacher associations that are all preparing their opening packages. For the first time in a long time we are all going to be bargaining at the same time. In the past we have been able to leap-frog one another and reference other association agreements as an argument for us obtaining similar settlements, if not better. Since we are all opening at the same time, this will not be possible. Instead we will need to look outside of teachers’ associations and look to other work groups in the province who work in similar fields.

This is not to say that bargaining will be any easier or harder than it has been in the past. Rather, it will be different with other considerations and arguments that will need to be brought forward. We are well prepared and well informed and looking forward to starting the conversation with the Division.

It is still a very tense bargaining climate in Canada as well as locally. In Manitoba, Professors at U of M took a strike vote and entered mediation before settling with the University. They still have some items at an arbitrator because they simply could not agree on those items. U of W professors have taken a strike vote with 92 per cent in favour of striking should their two days of mediation not result in a settlement. Luckily, they were able to reach an agreement in committee which was ratified this past week by the membership and thus avoided a strike.

In Ontario where teachers are still dealing with their imposed contracts, teachers took an unpaid day just before the holiday. This was their first of two that they are required to take as part of an agreement to allow younger teachers to move along the salary grid. They had originally been slated to freeze for the term of the imposed agreement. Finally, for the bad news. In New Brunswick, teachers have taken zero per cent increases and the Professors at the University of New Brunswick have been on strike for the past three  weeks. There are numerous other things occurring around Canada but they are too numerous to include here.

There is something positive I would also like to highlight. I don’t want you to think that it is all doom and gloom out there. The BC Supreme Court has ruled that the stripping of class-size and composition from the BC teachers’ contracts was unconstitutional and have mandated that all the stripped clauses be retroactively reinstated. The court has further mandated that the government pay $2 million in damages to the BC Teachers Federation. The government has already announced its intent to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but this is still a huge win in a court of law for the right to bargain collec-tively. It also sets legal precedence for the impending court case in Ontario for the imposed agreements they are dealing with and, I think, sends a clear message that this type of behav-iour will not be tolerated.

Overall this is an interesting time to be a bargainer and to be entering bargaining. We have a solid package to bring forward to the Division as well as a strong team behind us to work hard at negotiations. Our committee worked extremely hard in pre-paring the opening package and we are confident.

I am honoured to work on your behalf as your Vice-President and I look forward to continuing to work for you.

In Solidarity,
Tim Breen"

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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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