Nova Scotia's public school teachers have voted to reject a tentative agreement between their union and the provincial government by a margin of 78.5 per cent, the third time in a little more than a year that members have vetoed a deal aimed at ending the dispute.
Voter turnout on Thursday was 106 per cent, with the added numbers accounting for substitute and active reserve teachers, who are also allowed to vote. This was the third tentative agreement reached between the union and government, all of which were recommended to members, and it is the highest voter turnout of the three votes.
Members of the provincial executive will meet next week to discuss their options and in the meantime work-to-rule job action remains in place.
Not planning to resign
Despite the result, union president Liette Doucet said she doesn't think she or any other members of the executive should step down.
Doucet said she wasn't surprised by the result, but that it's not a case of a disconnect between the union and membership. Rather, she said, it's a case of a government unwilling to "make the improvements that are necessary, that teachers are asking for."
In particular, Doucet said she thinks teachers are unhappy about the lack of immediate steps to address classroom conditions and workload, as well as the end of the long service award. Attendance and discipline policies could be brought in right away, and would go a long way toward building trust with teachers, she said.
What happens next
Doucet said she hopes the government will return to the table, but doesn't know what will happen. If anyone from the government knows what will happen next, they weren't saying Thursday night.
A brief news release quoted Education Minister Karen Casey as saying the result was "disappointing" and that the offer included a fair wage and showed the government was willing to make more investments in classrooms.
The government would "consider the next step," Casey said in the release.
That step could be more negotiations — it could also be legislation to impose a contract.
What was in the offer
This time around, teachers were being offered a contract that included two paid days of leave for personal development — a source of controversy — along with a promised review of the inclusion program in classrooms. A committee to review workplace concerns was also carried forward from the previous offer; it would include $10 million a year for two years to bring about changes.
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Issues of money, however, did not change much from the previous two offers: the government was still offering a three per cent increase over four years, although changes to when the increases would come meant minor gains in salary.
The long service award would still be frozen and no longer offered; teachers employed before July 2015 would qualify for the retirement payout, but no one hired since then would be eligible. The loss of that benefit was a particular bone of contention for many teachers.
In a surprise move, teachers rejected the first tentative agreement, going against a union recommendation, in December 2015. The two sides eventually resumed talking last summer and ultimately reached a second agreement, which teachers also rejected.
With two failed attempts at reaching a deal, teachers voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action, beginning a work-to-rule campaign in December.
While the job action has received support from many parents and students, others have criticized the impact it's had on things such as extra help, school sports and class trips.
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Following the second rejected offer, teachers took the unusual step of speaking publicly about their job-related concerns.
They talked about the need for more resources to help students with more complicated needs, overwhelming amounts of data entry, violence in the workplace and other challenges.