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Teachers joined in walkout by support staff

Pickets were up and school was out during a one-day walkout by School District 20 teachers on Tuesday. Above, teachers at J.L. Crowe Secondary got honks of support from passers-by. Teachers at Webster Elementary (right and left) were joined by support staff on the line. - Jim Bailey & Sheri Regnier
Pickets were up and school was out during a one-day walkout by School District 20 teachers on Tuesday. Above, teachers at J.L. Crowe Secondary got honks of support from passers-by. Teachers at Webster Elementary (right and left) were joined by support staff on the line.
— image credit: Jim Bailey & Sheri Regnier

Teachers were not the only ones taking a stand for a negotiated deal Tuesday, as support staff joined them in their message outside School District 20 facilities.

Approximately 200 members of Local 1285 (including educational assistants, custodians, clericals and maintenance) lost a day's pay to help their union brothers and sisters in their fight for fair bargaining. Support staff was directed not to cross the picket lines and refrain from performing their regular duties, unlike the last teacher strike that was treated more like and “informative session” and members like custodian Roger Smith didn't drop the mop.

“I support the teachers 150 per cent because to me it's ludicrous that this government feels that they have the power to bargain in a manner that isn't fair,” said Smith, CUPE 1285 president. “You think at least you're going to be respected and have people on the other side of the table willing to listen but with what the government has come out with  ‘If you don't sign we're going to take some of your wages away.’ That right there is indication as to what this government feels about teachers and public education in general.”

He's referring to the latest development, where school districts are formalizing their plan to cut teacher pay for strike action with a stop-work order that takes effect 45 minutes before and after school hours and during lunch and recess breaks.

The partial lockout, which came into effect Monday, mirrors the B.C. Teachers' Federation's first stage of strike action, and is an attempt to bolster the B.C. Public School Employers' Association case for cutting salaries by 10 per cent in response to the strike action.

Meanwhile, Premier Christy Clark is hoping a Labour Relations Board meeting on Thursday will jumpstart a resolution to the teachers’ dispute within 48 hours.

Clark says the government’s negotiators and the teachers’ union will meet with the LRB over lockout provisions that include a 10 per cent pay cut for teachers.

The Kootenay Columbia Teachers' Union joined districts across the province in rotating strikes this week as part of the second stage of job action.

“I do believe that they have the right to ask for whatever monetary restitution that they deem necessary to bring them up to par with the rest of teachers in Canada,” said Smith. “Class composition was taken away from them illegally by the Liberal government and that was ruled in BC Supreme Court that it was illegal so I really feel for them because they're being treated as fourth-class citizens, for lack of a better term.”

Smith fears this is foreshadowing. He has been up to his ears in contract negotiations since he became president of his union last year. CUPE 1285's contract is up at the end of June and much like it does for teachers, negotiations feel like a never ending story.

He said healthy bargaining shouldn't stretch for the time of a contract, which was the case for support staff. CUPE negotiated for 18 months before coming to a two-year agreement this winter and are now preparing for further talks this summer.

“As soon as we signed it right away it was like OK now we've got to get our proposals for the next round,” he said. “I'd like to see all the public unions in B.C. say 'The hell with you, we're all walking out and supporting the teachers' — it's long overdue.”

 

Students impacted by dispute

Students are bracing for how this job action will further impact their school activities after the school board cut break times by 15 minutes across the district, resulting in elementary students losing their 15 minute recess.

Locally this was done as a means of lessening the duty for district management staff, who were responsible for before-school, recess and after-school supervision since teachers refuse to perform those duties as part of their strike action.

Superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach just informed parents that the district elementary track and field meet scheduled for May 28-29 has been cancelled.

“Due to the ongoing labour dispute, I am unable to ensure that the event can run safely and with the appropriate supervision and supports in place for students,” he wrote. “I want to thank all the teachers and administrators who volunteered their time coaching and preparing students for the meet.”

If no agreement is reached, secondary school teachers will be locked out June 25 and 26, and all BCTF members will be locked out June 27, a year-ending administrative day.

Locally, provincial exams are scheduled from June 18-26, according to the SD20 schedule found on the district website. Prior to making a comment, Luterbach told the Trail Times SD20 is still trying to get a handle on what the news means and how it will impact the Kootenay-Columbia.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association says that it has no intention of using its partial lockout actions against B.C. teachers to block their participation in end-of-school performances or ceremonies. But rumblings about what graduation will look like if this dispute is not settled has many anticipating disappointment.

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