Cowichan teachers not optimistic of an early settlement

On the picket line outside Cowichan Secondary School Tuesday morning, from left, are: Loree Fulton, Greg Farley and Bill Gilbert. - Don Bodger
On the picket line outside Cowichan Secondary School Tuesday morning, from left, are: Loree Fulton, Greg Farley and Bill Gilbert.
— image credit: Don Bodger

Cowichan School District teachers on the picket line Thursday joining the provincial strike rotation weren’t optimistic of a negotiated settlement with the provincial government anytime soon.

Most agreed the two sides appear far apart, especially after the government followed the teachers’ rotating strike action  with a decision to lock teachers out during 45-minute periods before and after school, plus recess and lunchtime, and to dock their pay by 10% as a result of the rotating strikes.

The sides were arguing the legality of the 10% deduction Thursday morning before the Labour Relations Board.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has already announced the second stage of job action would continue next week with more rotating strikes. Tuesday (June 3) is pegged as the next day when Cowichan teachers conduct picketing, and students will again be staying home from class.

“Hopefully, rationality will prevail,’’ said striking teacher Bill Gilbert. “At this point, it doesn’t feel like a very rational fight.’’

“Completely irrational,’’ said picketer Loree Fulton.

“They’re behaving like our most difficult students,’’ said Gilbert.

As he spoke, one student burned rubber in front of Cowichan Secondary School in his car. No one is too sure if that was a show of support or consternation for the teachers.

Gilbert doesn’t feel the government, either through the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association or comments made by Education Minister Peter Fassbender, show any immediate sign of reaching an agreement.

“I’m not feeling particularly optimistic at this point,’’ he said. “We’re resolved.’’

“There’s an issue with us being heard in the media in general,’’ said Gilbert. “There’s not a lot of clarity about what the teachers are actually asking for and what our position is. I’d really like to see that improve.’’

“I love my job,’’ said Eleanor Stringer, an employment skills special ed. teacher at Cowichan Secondary. “I love my students and my colleagues. This is just the best job I’ve ever had. It breaks my heart it has to be this way. I’m not happy with the politics.’’

Cowichan District Teachers’ Association president Naomi Nilsson dropped by the picket line at Cowichan Secondary before heading to Richmond for meetings Thursday morning.

“That lockout really strengthened the resolve of our teachers,’’ she said.

Nilsson said the 10% wage cut has already been taken from teachers’ pay.

“We’re still in front of the kids the same amount of time as we are without a lockout,’’ she said.

Nilsson said teachers have not received a raise since 2010 and want cost-of-living adjustment plus “catch-up’’ at the very least.

“Right now, what they are offering doesn’t keep up with the cost of living,’’ she said.

“It’s not like we’re asking for the moon. We’re just hoping to be treated like CUPE was — or even HEU.

The BCPSEA says the BCTF’s wage and benefit demands add up to 21.5% over four years.

“I think the stickler is this class size and composition issue,” Nilsson said.

There remains a possibility the teachers will go to Stage 3, a full-scale walkout, but that would require another vote of members and Nilsson didn’t know when or if that might happen.

The contentious issue of graduation activities and ceremonies is proceeding regardless of the labour action.

“We are planning to do graduation with or without active teacher participation,’’ noted Cowichan Secondary Dual Campus principal Charlie Coleman. “We sent an email to all our school families asking to have ‘parents on deck’ if we need them to help with grad banquet and/or grad walk-up.’’

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