Teachers go on full strike as talks fail

By on June 18, 2014
Teachers and supporters were picketing Tuesday at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

Teachers and supporters were picketing Tuesday at Osoyoos Secondary School after talks between the government and the teachers’ union broke down. From left are Peter Gajda, Greg Gendron, John Seminoff, Lloyd Matthews and Suzie Zaruk. (Richard McGuire photo)

After a brief period of optimism late last week, a last-ditch attempt to avoid a strike by more than 40,000 public school teachers failed as teachers across British Columbia hit the picket lines Tuesday morning.

When the leadership with the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) filed a new proposal that saw their wage demands drop significantly, there appeared to be a breakthrough in negotiations with many pundits predicting a new long-term collective bargaining agreement could be reached.

However, all of that optimism quickly evaporated early Monday when BCTF president Jim Iker said the province didn’t follow through on its promise to engage in around-the-clock bargaining over the weekend.

Instead, the province rejected the BCTF’s proposal to cuts its wage demands, which is unacceptable after the teachers made such a significant move, said Iker.

Iker said the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) did not respond to new union proposals submitted on Friday until late Sunday evening, noting Education Minister Peter Fassbender said last week his government “will still be at the table 24/7 to get a negotiated settlement.”

The union’s latest wage-increase proposal asked for an eight per cent increase over five years, with a $5,000 per teacher signing bonus, Iker confirmed.

The BCTF had previously proposed a 12 per cent increase over four years, with the government’s bargaining agent, the BCPSEA, offering 7.3 per cent over six years and a $1,200 per teacher signing bonus if a deal is reached by the end of June.

When the BCPSEA returned to bargaining late on Sunday, Iker said, it had changed its wage proposal to seven per cent over six years.

“It is almost unheard of to backtrack on a wage offer,” Iker said.

Throughout his press conference Monday, Iker barely spoke of the BCPSEA, constantly referring to Fassbender and Clark as the people controlling the government’s bargaining strategy.

Fassbender released a statement Tuesday saying he’s disappointed a deal couldn’t be reached.

“I believe that both parties want this dispute resolved. If the BCTF wants to get a deal done they need to get back to bargaining and put all their cards on the table,” he said. “While they’ve moved on their wage demands, they have not provided clear answers on what other cost items are still on the table. After 16 months, the BCTF is still pushing proposals that literally have blanks in them where thereshould be dollar figures.

“Students have been turned away from their classrooms and teachers are losing income. The BCTF owes it to everyone to fill in those blanks, table their full set of demands, and respond to the comprehensive settlement offer that BCPSEA has put on the table.

“BCPSEA has worked very hard to put together a settlement that is fair for teachers, fair for taxpayers, and fair to the 150,000 public-sector workers who’ve already reached agreements. As BCPSEA demonstrated last week and through the weekend, they are

ready to bargain 24/7. We want to see an agreement by June 30 so everyone can head into the summer with this dispute behind us and the knowledge the system is on a path to long-term stability.”

Locally, teachers at Osoyoos Elementary School and Osoyoos Secondary School hit the picket lines early Tuesday morning.

Osoyoos Elementary School students were told to pack up all of their personal belongings last Thursday as their school year came to a premature end following the announcement by the BCTF that a full-scale teachers strike would begin Tuesday,

The BCTF teachers were told not to attend classes on Monday, so Thursday marked the end of the school year for most local students, except high school students in Grade 10, 11 and 12 who have to write provincial exams

“We asked all students to take home all of their personal belongings as this will mark the end of the school year” unless a negotiated settlement was worked out before the end of the weekend, said Osoyoos Elementary School principal Bo Macfarlane.

As an administrator, Macfarlane said it’s his duty to “remain neutral” during this labour dispute, but it was his job to inform parents that the school year was likely over.

A planned field trip early next week to Vancouver for Grade 6 and 7 students has been cancelled as has the School District 53 elementary track and field meet, he said.

Provincial examinations for all students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 will run as planned and bus service will be provided on the days when examinations are scheduled, said School District 53 board of trustees chair Marieze Tarr.

To avoid any further confusion, buses will follow their normal schedules for pick up and drop off on examination dates. Dates for provincial examinations include June 18, June 19 (Portage only), June 20, June 23 and June 24.

Buses will only run in communities on dates where examinations are scheduled to occur.

As matters develop, the School District will provide further information through local media, our website at www.sd53.bc.ca and through school websites and social media.

“If you have any questions specific to your school or child, please contact the school principal,” said Tarr. “It is the sincere hope of the Board of Education for School District No. 53 that this dispute will be resolved quickly through a negotiated settlement and that normal school operations will resume as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we will do our utmost to keep you informed in a timely manner.

The BCTF had to give 72-hour notice to initiate a full-scale withdrawal of services last Thursday morning in Vancouver.

A series of rotating strikes by BCTF members began almost one month ago – the final day of rotating strikes took place across School District 53 on Friday.

More than 86 per cent of BCTF members voted early last week in favour of escalating to full strike action.

“This week’s vote made it clear that B.C. teachers care deeply about the state of public education and their ability to meet the needs of all their students,” said Iker. “As well, it showed how firmly teachers are committed to doing what’s necessary to reach a fair deal.

“After 12 years of deep cuts, 3,500 teaching positions lost, and 200 schools closed, we are urging this government to reinvest in public education. Teachers are doing their utmost in an underfunded and under-resourced system, but students are not getting the support or one-on-one time they need. Our kids deserve so much more.

“To get a fair deal and avert a full-scale strike, B.C. teachers are looking for improvements to class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers to increase one-on-one time for students. In addition to improvements to student learning conditions, a fair deal must also include a fair wage increase for teachers.”

Talks between the BCTF and the BCSPEA were scheduled to resume Tuesday and Wednesday.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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