Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario

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Teachers' impasse 'unusual'

Roseann Danese
Windsor Star
Saturday, November 06, 2004

Public elementary teachers are still without a 2003-04 contract -- which would have expired three months ago had it been settled -- even as contract talks begin for a new three-year deal.

"It's highly unusual," admits Mary Jean Gallagher, director of the Greater Essex County District School Board.The board and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario could not reach an agreement for the 2003-04 school year, despite a work-to-rule campaign by the teachers and a last-ditch effort by Education Minister Gerard Kennedy to settle the issues. But a strike was averted when the two sides agreed to send the outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

Despite two sessions with the arbitrator, an agreement has not been reached, and the next session is scheduled for the new year. Meanwhile, the two sides are meeting again this week to discuss a new three-year contract that will take teachers to 2007.

"I want to move on," said union president Hilda Watkins, who represents 1,400 elementary teachers in public schools across Windsor and Essex County. "I want closure. But it's not over until it's over. I want a fair settlement for the teachers in greater Essex."

The union has been focusing on working conditions, with increases in the amount of preparation time teachers receive, and decreases in supervision time. Watkins said the union will be looking to increase preparation time to 200 minutes per week by the end of the new contract in 2007. Any gains made in the 2003-04 contract will help, she said.

Gallagher said while a number of the issues are intertwined, the process of arriving at two agreements is separate. The arbitrator is looking at teacher timetables and current instructional time in order to decide the issues for the 2003-04 contract. Each side presents its case, and the arbitrator will then decide on a settlement.