Teachers’ contract in Louis Riel School Division could be precedent-setting

By | May 8, 2020

The Louis Riel School Division and its teachers’ union have negotiated a new collective agreement that could set a precedent for the rest of Manitoba’s school divisions.

In mid-April, an arbitration board unanimously issued Louis Riel teachers with a two-year agreement that expires June 30, as opposed to a three-year deal that would expire next year, because the COVID-19 pandemic and a provincial bill currently before the courts are causing financial uncertainty.

Louis Riel School Division is the first of 38 school divisions in Manitoba to complete their collective bargaining. Pembina Trails School Division had to delay its negotiations due to the pandemic.

“The patterns that are established within teacher bargaining are very influential,” said James Bedford, president of Louis Riel Teachers’ Association.

“What happens in one local can, and often does, have an impact in another local,” he said. “That’s not always the case for every provision but it is often the case when it comes to a financial settlement.”

The award retroactively increases salaries between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2020 — a 1.6-per cent boost for last year, and a raise of 1.4 per cent for the current school year.

Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division, says the salary increases will cost roughly $7.8 million. (Submitted by the Louis Riel School Division)

According to Christian Michalik, superintendent of the LRSD, the increase in salaries will cost approximately $7.8 million.

“It’s unexpected. We couldn’t crystal ball the decision,” Michalik told CBC News. “It’s impact is going to be felt, and we’re working on finding solutions to honour the award.”

Term contracts can only be used to replace teachers on approved leave, teachers who terminate employment during the school year “due to unforeseen circumstances,” or to “supplement classroom resources for a period of less than three months,” according to the new deal.

Teachers are asked to schedule medical appointments outside of school hours if possible. If that’s not possible, they are asked to minimize their time away from school.

Also, as of June 30, a Personal Professional Development Fund administered by the teachers’ association will come into existence to encourage teachers’ professional growth and to help them financially.

The school division’s annual contribution has to equal four times the maximum rate of pay of Class 7 teachers — $102,002 in 2018. Any unused funds at the end of the year can be carried over to the following year.

The arbitrators awarded LRSD teachers pay increases from 2018 through 2020, slight changes to sick leave, a personal development fund, and rules around signing teachers to term-contracts. (Colleen Underwood)

“I think it’s a good decision for Manitobans, quite frankly, but definitely for Manitoba teachers,” said Bedford. “One of the strengths for the teachers of Manitoba is that we attract very well-educated, very qualified and very motivated people to teach in this province’s public schools.

“There are many, many reasons why someone would choose teaching as a career but having financial security is certainly part of that decision-making as are the intrinsic rewards of teaching young people in this province.”

The collective agreement between the LRSD and its teachers expired June 30, 2018. Early negotiations did not go anywhere, so both parties had to go to arbitration — a process that takes several months, said Bedford.

Part of the reason that an agreement took so long is because of provincial Bill 28. The legislation — passed in 2017 but has not been proclaimed into law — calls for a two-year wage freeze for public workers, starting in 2018-19. This coming year, workers would be given a 0.75 per cent pay raise, then one per cent the year after.

Last November, unions representing public-sector workers took the Manitoba government to court over the legislation, claiming it unconstitutional.

If Bill 28 is proclaimed, it would nullify the Louis Riel School Division contract.

“Many public sector collective bargaining agreements have already been reached and will be reached in the challenging economic circumstances ahead,” a provincial spokesperson said in an email Thursday.

“We will continue to urge that all public sector employers and unions engage in constructive collective bargaining and have no intention of proclaiming the bill at this time.”

Defined work hours not ruled upon

The arbitration board decided not to rule on an issue raised by the Louis Riel Teachers’ Association regarding defined work hours for teachers.

The union noted that teachers do work outside of class time and grading, but there is “no known workday and no agreed maximum quantity of required work” outside of what is related to a teacher’s main duties, the decision said.

Given that, the union asked for wording in the new collective agreement that defines teachers’ working time.

The school division considered this “brand-new territory,” the decision says, and that the “proposed new article would fundamentally change the provision of education and was entirely unacceptable.”

Ultimately, the union suggested the issue be worked out “because as a matter of principle, teachers should know their hours of work.”

The arbitration board sided with the union’s sentiment as it “has now been flagged as a major concern” by the teachers.

“The board will not make an award on this subject but does expect the parties to undertake serious discussions in advance of future collective bargaining,” the decision said.

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