Job action is not planned after B.C. teachers show overwhelming support for possible strike

By on March 12, 2014

British Columbia teachers have voted overwhelmingly (89 per cent) to support strike action, but there are no imminent plans to close schools.

“Only if talks break down at the bargaining table will any job action take place,” said Sylvia Slater, president of the South Okanagan Similkameen Teachers’ Union.

Slater reacted to last week’s vote that saw 26,051 teachers express their desire to strike.

Slater said their goal remains the same. “We want a fair deal for teachers and better supports for students which is why we want to discuss class size and composition and specialist teacher ratios.”

School District 53 chair Marieze Tarr said she is still hopeful that a strike will be avoided with the help of bargaining at the negotiating table.

Tarr noted the district has to receive 72-hour strike notice before any action is taken.

“A strike notice is often used as leverage at the bargaining table, so here is hoping that it will be resolved through negotiations and that there will be no interruption or negative impacts on the classroom.”

BC Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said a strike vote is a normal part of labour relations and helps apply pressure to both parties during negotiations.

Iker said any initial job action will be administrative in nature and have no impact on student learning. He confirmed that any initial action will not include school closures or affect report cards or extracurricular activities.

Iker said if talks stall or the government does not move on key areas, job action could escalate to rotating strikes.

“There will be no full-scale walkout as a result of this vote. Such action would require another province-wide vote of the BCTF membership,” said Iker.

Wages and class size/composition remain the primary issues of concern for teachers.

Iker called the government’s initial wage offer an “insult.”

But the Ministry of Education’s bargaining team is offering a 6.5 per cent increase in the first six years.

And contrary to public belief, class size and composition are on the bargaining table, said Minister of Education Peter Fassbender at a press conference last Friday.

Fassbender said the BCTF has not tabled a comprehensive offer yet. “Up to now we have been negotiating with ourselves.”

But Iker said they tabled an offer last year.

The minister said they want a long-term agreement in order to give students, parents and educators some stability. But teachers have stated they don’t want a 10-year deal.

Iker said teachers want to see smaller class sizes and more one-on-one time with students. He admitted this will cost more money, but it’s an “important investment.”

Iker said teachers make a constructive and positive difference in the lives of students.

“They are caring, passionate professionals . . . even in an era of cuts.”

Local parent Margie Mathieson said she finds the strike vote very frustrating as it once again creates uncertainty for parents and students.

“Since my son has been in school, I can’t count how many times there has been the threat of strike, if not an actual strike. It seems like every year almost.”

Mathieson said she truly wishes that teachers and the government come to an amicable agreement. “I think concessions need to be made by both sides.”

Mathieson said the government indicates that accommodating the teachers’ requests (smaller class size and increased salary, for example) will cost more than a billion dollars.

“The BCTF feels this is money well spent. My question is where does that money come from?”

Mathieson said the BCTF isn’t the only group feeling understaffed and underpaid by this government. She pointed out that employees who work for the Ministry of Children and Families (MCF) are in the same boat as teachers.

“I feel for the counsellors who work for MCF as they too have huge workloads and many kids are not getting the appropriate services they need because there just aren’t enough counsellors to go around and they just want to help kids as well.”

Mathieson said there is only so much revenue that the government brings in to service so many sectors, and there is bound to be someone left out of this equation.

School trustee Rob Zandee was disappointed to hear of the strike vote and wonders if it was ill advised.

“Certainly the comments, questions and opinions I have been receiving from parents in the community indicate a very high level of frustration.”

Zandee said the offer of a 6.5 per cent increase is similar to deals that other public sector unions have reached.

Trustee Tamela Edwards expressed her disappointment that parents and students are once again facing this issue.

“I wish this could be resolved once and for all. I am tired of the ongoing angst that exists between the provincial government, the BCTF and boards of education. It’s exhausting.”

Edwards said there are significant changes that coincide with 21st century learning that require everyone to work together without disruption.

“I am concerned how a strike will affect that.”

The trustee said the fact is many people have not received a wage increase in years, so a 6.5 per cent hike looks good to people who’ve received zero.

Edwards said education is only one financial responsibility that the government is trying to address in BC.

She agreed that having well-paid teachers and addressing class size and composition are important. However, she questions whether a strike will resolve either of these issues. But it will impact students, she said.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

 

 

 

 

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