Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 2004
Strike-lockout closes schools in the Hat
Board, teachers force students to take early Christmas break
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholic students in Medicine Hat are enjoying an extended Christmas holiday as a dispute between teachers and the local school board over salaries and benefits remains unresolved.
The board locked teachers out Dec. 13 after talks broke down. Board chair Mike Tivadar said the move was an attempt to avoid a strike during January exams.
Union negotiator Klaus Opatril says teachers wanted to continue negotiations and to keep kids in school.
The teachers voted in favour of a strike to back contract demands and began their action Dec. 14.
The board and the teachers' union are not on the same page when it comes to several issues, including pay, working conditions and medical benefits. The parties have been unable to forge a collective bargaining agreement since August of last year.
The teachers want salaries, benefits and working conditions similar to those of their counterparts in public schools.
That would include a health spending account, a weekly cap on instructional and assigned time and a salary increase of 10.3 per cent over four years, including two per cent retroactive to Sept. 1, 2004.
The board says it doesn't have the means to meet the teachers' demands and is offering a pay hike of 11 per cent over five years.
The board is also rejecting the teachers' demand for a cap on their work week saying it's too restrictive. "By putting (the cap) into a contract it becomes very restrictive and it could come to the point that some teachers would say, 'Okay, I've put in my time and I am out of here,'" Tivadar said. "And that's what we are trying to avoid."
According to the board chair, it would cost the board $4.3 million to meet all the teachers' demands, which he said would result in both educational and staff cuts.
"I think that's a little bit of politics on his part; clearly he wants to make it sound as dire as he possibly can," Opatril said. "But if other boards in this province are paying salary increases and paying benefits similar to what we are asking for, we see no reason why this board can't when their revenue is the same as other boards' revenue."
The province intervened two weeks ago in a similar dispute in the Parkland school district, where teachers have also been without a collective bargaining agreement for more than a year. When negotiations broke down, a dispute inquiry board was put in place to prevent a lockout by the school board and a strike by the teachers, which would have affected 10,000 students in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain.
This time the province won't intervene because a lockout is already in effect, said Learning Minister Gene Zwozdesky.
"The issue is entirely between the local school board and the local Alberta Teachers Association union representatives," the minister said. "But I have been encouraging both the ATA union reps and the local school boards to continue their talks and accelerate those talks so that the education system in Medicine Hat can be put back on its feet very quickly so that students' education is not compromised."
The 165 striking Catholic teachers serve about 2,535 students in schools in Medicine Hat and Bow Island.
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