Teachers vote
Strike poll held across territory

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 08/99) - Pat Thomas says she wants to get back to the bargaining table and that the teachers' strike vote was the only way to achieve that goal.

President of the NWT Teachers' Association, Thomas was in Inuvik over the weekend to meet with teachers in the run-up to Wednesday's scheduled vote.

"We want to get back to the bargaining table, we want our concerns to be heard," she said Friday, "and we know there's only one way to do that -- by making use of the right to strike."

At issue is the lack of a new collective agreement between the government and some 430 teachers outside of Yellowknife, including more than 100 in the Inuvik region. Talks between the parties broke down just before school let out last summer -- and Thomas said the major sticking points include working conditions, compensation, class sizes, teacher safety and the recovery of benefits "lost" over the years. She said territorial teachers would doubtless be thinking of the agreements ratified by the two Yellowknife boards last spring.

"It certainly sets a precedent," she said. "They have the housing, the vacation travel allowance, people seem to think that these are offered only in the NWT, but in the U.S. they're trying to attract Canadian teachers, and it's travel allowance that they're offering, too."

Thomas said she hoped the agreement could be settled before the upcoming territorial election, slated for Dec. 6.

"The process has been delayed enough," she said, "but that's why we're taking the vote now, so we can be ready for the conciliation process set for Nov. 3 to 5, but we'll be ready to go back in the meantime."

Yvonne Carpenter, chair of the Inuvik District Education Authority, said it is a good time for teachers to voice their concerns, in light of the recent retention bonus gained by territorial nurses.

"They deserve it, everyone deserves some benefit," she said, "and teachers are suffering along with everyone else, we're supporting them."

Charles Dent, the minister responsible for the public service, said Monday he was confident progress toward achieving a collective agreement could be made once the mediation process begins.

"At this point the GNWT has not tabled its final position, and there should be enough flexibility remaining on both sides to make meditation productive," he said.