THUNDER BAY -- Citing the uncertainty surrounding the threat of rotating teacher strikes, the director of education at the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board said it’s a chance he can’t take.
Pino Tassone on Thursday said the board has given the union notice it plans to lock out all elementary teachers if a deal isn’t reached by Tuesday.
Members of the Thunder Bay Elementary unit of the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teachers’ Association on Wednesday gave notice they planned to stage walkouts, starting on Monday, at two different schools each day until an agreeable contract was reached.
The main sticking point continues to be the board’s unwillingness to involve them in the internal hiring process.
Tassone said he was left with no choice.
“We had a long meeting yesterday about how we could manage rotating strikes. When they stated they would only give us 24 hours notice and not knowing at which schools they would strike at, it posed a huge problem for us,” Tassone said.
“The huge problem would be the risk that we would impose on the safety of our students. We thought long and hard and said the best thing for us to do if they would go into a rotating strike was that we should apply or give notice to lock them out.”
Under provincial law, the board has to give a minimum of five days notice, meaning they could close the schools’ doors until Tuesday.
Teachers may still walk off the job at some – or all – elementary schools on Monday.
Tassone said it’s unfortunate, but parents will have to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children should the lockout go into effect.
Students will not be allowed inside schools during the labour stoppage.
OECTA representative Aldo Grillo said the union has repeatedly offered to take the stalemate to binding arbitration, adding this move would put an end to work-to-rule sanctions put in place last year. Elementary teachers have been in a legal strike position since last June and their current three-year deal still being negotiated expires this coming August.
“We are always willing to talk and we are very disappointed that the labour dispute with the board has come to this … or maybe this was the Board’s plan all along,” Grillo said in a release issued late on Wednesday night.
“We are aware that the board has already agreed to what we are asking for with one of its other employee groups.”
The frustration continues to mount.
"This is what we have been asking the board to agree to since the fall of 2015 – recognition of qualifications and seniority in the transfer and placement process. If other employees already have this, why not us? Experience matters, at least it does for other workers in Thunder Bay Catholic – we think it matters for teachers too,” Grillo said.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter issued a statement on Thursday, urging both sides to get back to negotiations.
"We strongly encourage the parties to use all of the options available to them to resolve the dispute, including binding arbitration. If a strike or lockout happens, we wil do everything we can to support students and parents," Hunter said.
Tassone said an offer from the board is on the table and he’s hopeful a deal can be struck before a labour stoppage becomes necessary.