Halifax Herald Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia teachers reject tentative contract deal with province

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Shelley Morse believes the current offer is the best the union can do right now as the government works toward balancing the books. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / Staff / File)Sixty-one per cent of Nova Scotia Teachers Union members voted to reject the province's tentative contract offer on Tuesday night.

Conciliation likely will be the next step, given that union leaders had said they don't expect a better offer from government.

That means at some point, a strike vote will be held, or the province could legislate a contract, the most extreme option for both sides respectively.

SEE ALSO: Beleaguered teachers aren't stopgaps

Ninety-four per cent of the union membership voted.

“I am disappointed the negotiated, tentative agreement recommended to Nova Scotia teachers by their chief negotiator, negotiating team and executive and NSTU president was not ratified, ” Premier Stephen McNeil said in a statement Tuesday night.

“We have options now to contemplate. We will take the next several days to consider those options and determine the next steps.”

The Nova Scotia government reached the tentative deal with the province’s 9, 000 public school teachers on Nov. 12.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union presented the agreement to its members on Nov. 17-18 and recommended they accept it because of a potential threat of having a tougher contract imposed.

“We put the tentative agreement out to the members and it’s always up to the members to decide so 61 per cent have decided to reject the tentative agreement, ” Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Shelley Morse said in an interview Tuesday evening.

“We’ll go back and have discussions in our membership and then we will figure out where we want to go from here.”

When asked what swayed the teachers to vote the way they did, Morse said members are upset with their working conditions and would have liked to have seen some of those issues addressed in this contract.

“The working conditions that they are dealing with are terrible, ” Morse said.

“Class sizes are huge in some grade levels. We don’t have enough resources to deliver our programs properly. We don’t have the proper services to help students with varying needs. We have class composition issues. The workload has increased considerably because of PowerSchool and TIENET (reporting systems)."

The work teachers are doing on these systems, Morse said, is akin to data entry clerks.

“They want time to be able to teach their students and they want time to be able to do that well, ” she said.

The tentative deal had not been without controversy.

Some teachers have accused the executive of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union of not doing enough to get a better deal, while others have criticized the executive’s decision to allow its lead negotiator, Halifax lawyer Ron Pink, to hammer out a deal with the government over 10 days before presenting it the executive for approval.

Last week six former presidents of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union spoke out against the tentative contract deal between the union and provincial government.

In a statement, the former presidents recommended the union suspend Tuesday’s ratification vote and proposed to the government that the two sides return to the table.

Teachers voted electronically on a four-year deal that included a wage freeze for two years, a one per cent increase in year three, a 1.5 per cent increase at the start of the fourth year and a 0.5 per cent increase on the last day of the fourth year. The long service award would have also been removed, although so would the government’s asks for some contentious items that would change teachers’ work days.

The last agreement between the two sides expired July 31.

During a virtual town hall meeting on Monday night, union president Shelley Morse said it is troublesome when people not affected by negotiations propose ideas without being privy to everything that’s been discussed. Morse and Pink both reiterated during the meeting that they believe the offer is the best the union can do right now as the government works toward balancing the books.

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