New West teachers hit picket line with BCTF president Jim Iker

BCTF president Jim Iker, right, talks to NWSS teachers while they walk the picket line Monday. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
BCTF president Jim Iker, right, talks to NWSS teachers while they walk the picket line Monday.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

The mood on the picket line was buoyant to begin with but a loud cheer erupted and horns honked when their leader showed up.

New Westminster was one of 17 school districts hit on the first day of rotating strikes by the B.C. Teachers' Federation on Monday.

BCTF president Jim Iker showed up in the morning at New Westminster secondary to hold a press conference and talk to the school's teachers as they walked the perimeter.

Iker attacked the province's recent limited lockout strategy. It shortens the teachers' work day including prohibiting them from helping students during recess or lunch.

"The lockout has created a lot of chaos and confusion, not only with our teachers but our students and our parents," said Iker. "The government has done this with the sole purpose of trying to dock us 10 per cent in pay."

Iker added the union will contest the province's ability to make such a move with the Labour Relation Board on Thursday. The two sides were expected to be back at the bargaining table Monday afternoon.

"We need to talk about it in a meaningful way that will move us forward," said Iker.

New Westminster Teachers' Union president Grant Osborne said his members are strong in their resolve.

"Nobody wants to be doing this, but we're very upbeat. They know why we're here," said Osborne.

He added it's difficult to say how his members would react if more rotating strikes are required. "Nobody wants to see any escalation."

The province's latest move will hurt students because their opportunities to get help from teachers will be limited, said Osborne. "We're looking at a lockout that actually hampers students ability to graduate."

NWSS English teacher Bruce McCloy said the mood on the picket line was upbeat tinged with sadness.

"It's always difficult to take action," said McCloy. "You're torn. We want to be with the students. The students are what it's all about."

District superintendent John Gaiptman said most of the schools had no students show up while a few had one or two.

"It's been too quiet. I'd much rather be talking to you about the exciting things that are happening at our schools," said Gaiptman. "I am relieved we didn't have any safety situations and parents did cooperate and kept their sons and daughters at home or found alternate ways to ensure their sons and daughters were taken care of.

"One of the joys of my job is being able to go into classrooms and see excellent teaching going on on a daily basis. There was no joy today because I was not able to do that."

Gaiptman said the lockout won't affect NWSS's graduation ceremonies June 26 or the grad dinner and dance the next night because they're volunteer activities. That also applies to provincial sport championships this week.

"We're going to make sure to the best of our ability that things carry on in a regular way, but it's an individual's choice about whether or not a teacher wants to participate," said Gaiptman.

New Westminster joined Vancouver as the only districts in Metro Vancouver on the picket line Monday. The rotating strikes will hit Burnaby on Thursday, the final day of the first round.

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