ETFO Rainbow president Barb Blasutti said although trustees gave the board the go-ahead, nothing is official yet. She said they've merely given their consent for the board to act.
“We have nothing signed,” she said. “All (trustees have) done is untied the board's hands.”
The amendments change several aspects of a two-year contract imposed on many of the province's teachers last winter, including improved maternity leave and sick day benefits.
They were negotiated by the the province, the ETFO and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) this past spring. School boards, which were left out of these talks, were given until Aug. 29 to approve the contract amendments.
But Rainbow board director of education Norm Blaseg tells a different story.
For all intents and purposes, the trustees' motion means the contract amendments are official, Blaseg said, although the board still needs to submit the paperwork to the province, which should happen in a week or two.
“In our eyes, we have done what is required by the Ministry of Education by appending to the memorandum of understanding those required pieces,” Blaseg said.
“I can't speak to the pieces that Barb is speaking to. I'm a little confused as to why that would be a concern for her.”
Boards also have until Sept. 30 to negotiate with unions about local issues, but Rainbow board vice-chair Dena Morrison said that won't be happening here.
She said the most the board will be doing is sharing information about the amendments with the ETFO and OSSTF. The current collective agreement expires Aug. 31, 2014, and negotiations for the next contract start in January.
“We're moving on,” Morrison said. “We have a collective agreement. We're not about to open our agreement when we're about to start bargaining again in January.”
But Blasutti said Aug. 29 she was still hoping to talk about local issues. She said she remains “cautiously optimistic” the contract will be finalized to her satisfaction.
“My fear is the board is only willing to append its own version of the memorandum of understanding, not the understanding that is officially reached between ETFO and the Ministry of Education.”
Blasutti also takes issue with the fact that the province and unions came up with the contract amendments back in the spring, but the Rainbow board didn't deal with the issue until the last minute.
She said the ETFO met with the board in early August, but were told at that point the board wasn't prepared to sign off on the contract amendments.
Blasutti said her members aren't happy with the board's actions, and she even raised the spectre of labour disruptions, something which plagued the board during the last school year.
Because the ETFO is under a contract, it cannot engage in formal strike action. But Blasutti questions whether her members will be willing to volunteer their time for extracurricular activities, given their treatment by the board.
“My members really feel that this board does not value them,” she said. “This board, by dragging its heels for so long, demonstrates a complete lack of respect for my members' working conditions and my members in general.”
Blaseg explained that the board wasn't willing to immediately implement the contract amendments because staff first had to figure out how much they would cost, and then ensure the province would provide adequate funding.
The Rainbow board learned Aug. 20 that it will receive $1.4 million from the province to pay for the contract amendments, he said.
As for Blasutti's statements about possible labour disruptions, Blaseg said he's not sure what to think about that.
“When it comes to job actions, I find that curious,” he said. “I'm not sure what that means, because I thought that was behind us.”
OSSTF Rainbow District 3 president James Clyke was much more positive about the fact that the trustees have finally approved the contract amendments.
“I'm not quite sure why they were dragging their feet on it,” he said. “Now that they've done it, at least they can set up the year with labour peace, and start off with a fresh slate.”
While Clyke told Northern Life last month labour disruptions were possible for the new school year if the board didn't agree to amend the contract, he said the board's recent actions probably mean this won't happen.
“We could never walk off the job anyway because we have a contract, but it certainly does pretty much put an end to any action that might have been taken,” he said.