Nova Scotia teachers signal another ‘no’ vote for proposed contract

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Nova Scotia teachers signal a third ‘no’ vote to proposed contract
WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia teachers are signalling another rejected contract just days before they're set to vote on the latest tentative agreement between their union and the government. Marieke Walsh reports – Feb 3, 2017

Nova Scotia teachers are signalling another rejected contract just days before they’re set to vote on the latest tentative agreement between their union and the government.

READ MORE: NSTU makes ‘handful’ of minor changes to work-to-rule directives

On Thursday, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) reaffirmed its recommendation that teachers accept the proposed contract, despite a large number of teachers saying they plan to reject the tentative agreement.

This is the third proposed contract in less than two years the union has recommended for approval, the first two were rejected by union members. The third vote will be held on Wednesday.

Of the 15 teachers who spoke with Global News, two said they would vote in favour of the deal. Most teachers asked to remain anonymous, but two spoke on the record.

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Union president Liette Doucette said there are “a number of teachers” who support the contract but who are keeping quiet.

The government declined a request for comment.

Voting against union’s recommendation

Prince Andrew High School teacher Ben Sichel said the current contract proposal doesn’t go far enough to address issues around classroom conditions – in particular class sizes in upper grades.

“We need some more concrete measures in place,” Sichel said. “If this is the contract we’re going to get, if this is what’s legislated on us, then it’s going to have to be legislated, but I’m not willing to say that ‘Yes I accept this.'”

Sichel said he attributes the mood among teachers to them wanting to follow through on the issues they’ve raised.

The union says the tentative agreement includes $60 million in new spending on wages and classroom conditions. It would enshrine existing class caps for the duration of the contract but it doesn’t add any new ones and there are no hard caps. There are no caps at all after Grade 6.

The deal would also give teachers two days off per school term in lieu of losing their long service award. The government said those days are for school-related work but the union says the days can be used for anything – a source of confusion among teachers and the union.

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READ MORE: NS committed to classroom change with latest offer to teachers: premier

“They can use it to do report cards, they can use it as a mental health day, they can use it to take their child to a hockey tournament, they can use it any way they wish,” Doucet said.

The deal would also change when teachers would get a cost of living wage increase, but the total increase over the four years of the contract is still three per cent. C.P. Allen High School teacher Paul Wozney said he is voting against the proposed contract in part because it doesn’t go far enough to improve compensation.

“I will never vote ‘Yes’ for a deal that looks like, feels like, sounds like Bill 148,” Wozney said — referring to the government’s wage legislation which it passed but hasn’t enacted.

Predicting a ‘strong no’

All but one teacher who spoke with Global News predicted the contract will ultimately be rejected, with Wozney saying he thinks the “no” vote will grow with this contract.

“I think it’s going to be a strong no,” Wozney said. “I won’t be shocked if it’s 80 per cent or stronger.”

Doucet said she doesn’t know how big the “yes” group will be compared to the vocal “no” group.

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“I really cant predict what’s going to happen, I can’t say if it’s fifty-fifty, I can’t say what the split is, I have no idea.”

READ MORE: N.S. students divided over ongoing teachers’ labour dispute

Citing the public backlash teachers have faced since starting work-to-rule, Wozney said teachers have “paid the price because it was all in the name of better classrooms – now – for students, and for teachers, and there’s nothing in the deal that gives us hope of immediate relief for issues that are really pressing.”

Doucet said she understands the frustrations of many teachers, but the deal is the “best” that the union could get. The result of the vote will be released on Wednesday evening.

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