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Flin Flon teachers get 9.32% increase

Deal sets costly benchmark for other school divisions

President of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, Paul Olson

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

President of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, Paul Olson

The Flin Flon School Division vowed it would not be the first to settle with teachers this time around -- not after supposedly invoking the province's ire for the standard the tiny school division set in 2010.

And now Flin Flon trustees have gone and done just that -- reaching a deal that runs to June 30, 2018, which pays teachers a compounded 9.32 per cent increase over four years.

By the time the deal expires, a Class 5 classroom teacher -- undergraduate degree and education degree -- with 10 years' experience will be making $95,479.69 in Flin Flon.

And a Class 7 teacher, with a PhD or two master's degrees, will be making $102,761.89.

Flin Flon and its teachers have settled for a new deal that pays two per cent in each of the next three years, and two 1.5 per cent increases paid six months apart in the final year of the contract. The division has four schools and 1,001 students, the second-smallest division in Manitoba behind McCreary-based Turtle River.

Meanwhile, both Seven Oaks and St. James-Assiniboia have tentative three-year deals for two per cent a year.

"Is that a ceiling or a floor? Reasonably, I think it would be a floor," for the 34 bargaining units still in negotiations, Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said Friday.

Last September, Flin Flon school board chairman Murray Skeavington and superintendent Blaine Veitch said they would not be the first to settle this time around.

When the previous teachers contract expired on June 30, 2010, Flin Flon was the first in Manitoba to seek labour peace, settling for two 1.5 per cent raises phased in that year, then three years of two per cent raises a year.

Every other division followed, and "word came down from on high" the provincial government was not happy with Flin Flon, said Veitch last September.

"We were the first last time. We won't be the first this time," he said.

Skeavington and Veitch have not responded to interview requests this week.

An aide to Education Minister James Allum said he would have nothing to say: "The province is not involved in local bargaining and therefore, we cannot comment."

Remarkably, every school division's contract with its teachers expired June 30. Financial terms were identical, with some local variations in working conditions, primarily for classroom preparation time.

The common wisdom is once one division settles, every other bargaining unit will point to that settlement as the minimum to which it would aspire should negotiations end up in arbitration.

It's surprising three boards and their teachers reached deals so quickly -- bargaining usually takes many months after previous contracts end -- that St. James-Assiniboia and Seven Oaks teachers did not go for the fourth year and its additional money, and that boards did not leave the key element in their budgets to be decided until after October's school board elections.

Olson was surprised by the speed of the settlement, but was unaware of the local circumstances in Flin Flon.

"They saw an opportunity for settlement. Who wants to come back in the fall if you can avoid it?" said Olson, pointing out little bargaining occurs during the summer.

"There are timelines in play, trustee elections, provincial elections," Olson said.

No one knows what will happen in the next provincial election, expected as early as next year, Olson said, so teachers may be ready to settle soon. Contracts can be broken by government -- he cited unpaid Filmon Fridays in the 1990s -- though he said it is difficult and can backfire on a government.

But, he said, "Could they do so? Very much so."

There is a toxic environment for teachers in other provinces, including possible salary cuts in B.C. and sick time being "gutted" in Ontario, Olson said.

Every school board in Manitoba had to build in retroactive pay increases when they passed their budgets in March for this school year.

While the effect of the three settlements is not clear so far, all teachers received a two per cent pay raise in 2013-14, when education property taxes rose by an average 4.1 per cent across Manitoba.

The number of teachers on the payroll is rising, thanks to the province's policy of smaller class sizes, additional physical education and vocational programs, and the plan to cap kindergarten to Grade 3 classes at 20 students by 2017.

Some divisions are also moving to full-day kindergarten in at least some of their schools, adding to the workforce.

Manitoba School Boards Association president Floyd Martens declined to speculate.

"Each division bargains separately, and so I am not sure what was the driving factor for these divisions to reach agreement or tentative agreements sooner than other boards, given these are local decisions," said Martens, a trustee in Dauphin-based Mountain View School Division.

"This is three of 37 divisions, so it is hard to know where other settlements will be. It is too early to speculate on what may materialize from those discussions."

 

The status of all Manitoba teachers contracts is available at:

http://tinyurl.com/kebam8t

 

The salary levels for a typical Class 5 teacher in every school division in 2013-2014 are available at:

http://tinyurl.com/k82dwdq

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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