B.C. teachers taking strike vote

Maple Ridge Teachers Association president George Serra said the government’s ignoring of court ruling on class size was ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Maple Ridge Teachers Association president George Serra said the government’s ignoring of court ruling on class size was ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

B.C. Teachers take a strike vote next week and the results will be known by next Thursday.

“I’m disappointed to hear that’s the action they’re going to take,” said Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing, adding that Education Minister Peter Fassbender has said there has been progress in negotiations.

That wasn’t the assessment of the BC Teachers’ Federation on Tuesday. The union noted after more than 40 sessions and more than a year of bargaining, it will take the strike vote “to push back against major concession demands, an unfair salary offer, and a deliberately confrontational attempt to reverse the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision on class size, composition, and staffing levels.”

Bing noted Victoria is appealing the Jan. 27 court decision to reinstate class-size contract language from 2002, and said that process could take years.

But the government would prefer a negotiated settlement.

Bing said parents have had enough of teacher job action in recent years. Report cards haven’t been issued, and teachers have refused to take part in extra-curricular activities including grad ceremonies.

“I think they (parents) are very frustrated,” said Bing.

“We all have the same goals – we all want the best education possible for our children. That’s hard in this climate.”

BCTF president Jim Iker said the government continues to negotiate in bad faith, and has tabled “unreasonable proposals” which would strip class size and composition from contracts.

The government is asking for a 10-year deal, and Iker said teachers are being asked to accept no increase for the first two years, four years of increases ranging from 0.5 to one per cent, and then the final four years of “an ill-defined indexing scheme that not even the BC Public School Employer’s Association negotiators can explain.”

Teachers received no pay increase for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said the strike vote is in part a reaction to the government ignoring the court’s class-size decision.

The “complete disregard for the court ruling” was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

He noted the teachers fought in court for the right to negotiate class sizes for 12 years.

He said the government has offered an salary indexing scheme that is confusing at best, but essentially the Liberals are asking for “a handshake agreement, with potential increases,” depending on how the economy performs.

“Those are all measures the government gets to control,” he added.

Serra conceded that teacher job action has the potential to upset students and parents.

“I think the majority of folks will understand our frustration,” he said. “We don’t take strike votes lightly.”

The union isn’t saying what job action will occur, but did say what it won’t do.

Once the strike vote is taken, the union has 90 days to activate it with job action. The union said the action will occur in stages, but it will not include immediate school closures or disruption for students.

The initial action will also not stop teachers from participating in extracurricular activities, nor will it affect report cards or teachers communicating with parents.

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