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Maple Ridge teachers feel strike support

Madelyn Hudson-Gibbs (front), 6, and other students support teachers during their rotating strike in front of Garibaldi secondary Tuesday. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Madelyn Hudson-Gibbs (front), 6, and other students support teachers during their rotating strike in front of Garibaldi secondary Tuesday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Teachers in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District set up picket lines in front of their schools on Tuesday, taking their turn in the escalation of province-wide job action by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

At Garibaldi secondary, a truck driver passed by, blasting his horn as the sign-toting educators responded with first pumps. The driver of the next pickup also gave them a thumbs up. Of the drivers on busy Dewdney Trunk Road, about every third or fourth vehicle game them a honk of support.

They had a member of the Maple Ridge Firefighters Local IAFF 4449 come by and drop off a letter stating: “We support the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s efforts to achieve a fair deal and to deliver a first-rate education to every child in B.C.”

Such solidarity was also seen on other picket lines, where union members and parents of students came by with boxes of Tim Hortons’ doughnuts, home-baked goods and expressions of support.

“There’s lots of public support,” said a teacher, pointing out that a recent Angus Reid poll has found 41 per cent of British Columbians support the teachers in the dispute, compared with 30 per cent who back the government. Another 22 per cent said they would support neither, while six per cent couldn’t say.

On the picket line at Maple Ridge secondary, union picket captain Drew Parkinson was getting ready to deal with a yelling and agitated member of the public. Parkinson thought the man was angry at teachers, but soon found he was actually a supporter.

“He was irate against the government  – what Christy Clark is doing.”

He said the man was incensed that the government is docking teachers’ pay 10 per cent because it has gone to rotating strikes.

“What other union has that done to them?” asked Parkinson. “Put yourself in our shoes.”

He noted that teachers are already giving up one day of pay each week for the rotating strike, and are now hit with a lockout pay cut.

The union is challenging the legality of the pay cut at the Labour Relations Board on Thursday.

The union faces a partial lockout by government, which docks them 10 per cent of their pay. The lockout also orders them not to be in the workplace earlier than 45 minutes before the school day begins, or later than 45 minutes after the work day ends. Nor are they to work during their lunch hour.

Teachers say the lockout is hard on the school system, because they can’t help kids who need it, or want it.

“It’s coming to the end of the year. Kids always want a last-ditch effort to improve their grade, and you need to see those kids,” said MRSS biology and science teacher Jeanette Gordon.

Heidi Beveland-Dalzell is a teacher at MRSS and works with the LGBTQ club at noon hour. She worries that the group will be shut down by the lockout. It’s an important group for the kids involved.

“That’s a big deal,” she said.

Issues come up there – like the fact that there were about six kids who were leaving the school to use the restroom, and who were skipping gym class over changeroom issues. Now the school has unisex restrooms. Those are the kinds of student interactions that are part of the job, which will be impacted by the lockout, the teachers said.

“I’ve always thought we’re not appreciated by this government,” said Parkinson, adding that recent actions prove that.

He said the students most concerned about the labour strife are the grads.

“Grade 12s want to make sure their graduation ceremonies are still going, and that their teams are still coached,” he said.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association issued a letter to the BCTF Sunday, saying there are no school district restrictions on extracurricular or volunteer activities.

“If teachers withdraw from participation in extracurricular or volunteer activities, they do so at the encouragement of the union and by their own choice,” the letter states.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said the BCTF leadership should be working harder at a settlement, and be less focussed on its job action and bargaining strategies.

“I share everyone’s disappointment this is happening,” he said of the job action.

“Tactics from the past,” he called it.

“They [teachers] need to get their act together, and get a serious proposal to the bargaining table.”

Bing said he would like to see the union show some willingness to move from its latest salary position. The government has pegged it at 13.7 per cent over four years, which is not in line with other public sector settlements. He noted that the government has shown that it will compromise, in moving from its much publicized 10-year deal to a six-year agreement. The government has offered a 7.3 per cent wage increase over the time period.

He said the two sides would be able to come up with a deal if negotiators were locked in a room until they hammered one out.

“Eventually they will get there,” predicted Bing. “They might as well just get to it.”

For stories from around the province, see a map of Black Press coverage.

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