Teachers in two divisions enter contract crunch time

·3 min read

Local teachers in Winnipeg and River East Transcona are in a race against the clock to finish salary negotiations within their respective divisions before a new provincewide bargaining process comes into force.

Educators in these school divisions, the two largest in the province, continue to work without contracts — despite almost every other division in the province having finalized new collective agreements in recent months.

Citing concerns Bill 45 could soon render unfinished negotiations moot and salaries could fall behind colleagues in other divisions, both the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association and River East Transcona Teachers’ Association have called on members to contact their trustees to expedite negotiations over the last week.

“If Bill 45 is proclaimed, then it freezes WTA members at 2018 salaries until a new provincial agreement is reached — and we don’t know when that will be,” said Michelle Wolfe, association president, who represents approximately 3,000 teachers across schools in central Winnipeg.

“It could take a very long time, as it’s the first time we’ve done a provincial agreement.”

The legislation aims to phase out the existing 37 collective agreements in English language divisions with a single document.

A new streamlined bargaining process is expected to take place between an employers’ organization that will represent divisions and the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, which would become the exclusive bargaining agent for educators. The centralized model could come into effect as early as this month.

Wolfe said she worries her members will get “left behind” colleagues in other divisions if a new contract is not approved soon.

In 2021-22, Class 5 teachers in WSD are projected to make between $60,885 and $92,581, depending on years of teaching experience, while the average range across all Manitoba divisions is $63,201 to $97,105.

Both Winnipeg and River East Transcona locals have requested their divisions replicate the Pembina Trails arbitration award made in February, but claim administrators are not being co-operative.

That award provided teachers with a four-year contract, with annual increases of 1.6 per cent, 1.4 per cent, 0.5 per cent, and a hike the equivalent of a cost of living adjustment, between 2018-19 and 2021-22. Thirty-four locals currently have contracts that reflect these figures.

(Supporters of Bill 45 claim it will result in cost savings by eliminating the duplication of negotiated settlements and arbitrations, since divisions often draw up agreements that mirror others’.)

“We are grateful for all the dedication and commitment that the WSD staff have shown, but we will not negotiate in the media,” Betty Edel, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said in a statement.

Faced with similar allegations, the chairman of the board in River East Transcona echoed similar sentiments Tuesday. Trustee Jerry Sodomlak said it would be improper to discuss the specifics of ongoing negotiations, but the division respects the professionalism and commitment educators have shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press