Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be behind picket lines next week as a summer-long dispute between teachers and the province appears likely to continue into fall.
With the start of the school year looming, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has promised to step up protests against B.C. Liberal MLAs and school boards in an effort to kick-start bargaining.
“Pickets will be up in full force across the province,” BCTF president Jim Iker said Sunday at a summer leadership conference in Kamloops.
“We need to increase the pressure once again. We need to target those Liberal MLAs who are uncomfortable with how their government has been sitting on their hands – ask them why their government is not negotiating and get them questioning the spin that is coming from their minister.”
Although the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District is trying to be optimistic about a deal being reached before Sept. 2, a letter delivered to parents Monday sows more uncertainty.
Acting superintendent of schools Laurie Meston said a decision on schools opening will likely not be made until late Monday – Sept. 1.
Although schools will be open, if a settlement isn’t reached, there will be no classes.
Meston told parents not to send their children to school and to seek alternate arrangements for child care.
“The safety of our students is our highest priority. Should any students arrive at school while picket lines are in place, our school administrators will ensure that they are supervised until they can be safely returned to the care of a parent or guardian,” said Meston.
“It is our hope that the labour impasse is resolved quickly at the bargaining table, and that we can soon return to normal operations.”
Teachers, meanwhile, are picketing constituency offices and intend to continue. A rally is scheduled to take place Thursday targeting Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing.
Maple Ridge Teacher’s Association president George Serra said the union met with locals Friday in Kamloops and teachers were unanimous in maintaining their resolve.
Serra believes the strike will continue “short of a shift in government tactics,” which has been to stall.
“The first week of school is going to highlight the issues in a hurry for parents,” said Serra, adding that parents will be the ones to exert pressure on the government to settle.
“Vince Ready is ready, but the government has to take the preconditions out before he steps in.”
After three weeks of rotating strikes, B.C.’s 41,000 public school teachers launched a full strike June 17. There has been little progress at the bargaining table progress since then. Negotiators only met twice through summer, most recently Aug. 9.
A veteran labour dispute negotiator, Ready is monitoring the situation, but said in a statement Aug. 14 that he would not mediate until he believe the process will be productive.
Although the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and union are reported to be only a percentage apart on wages, the province is refusing to budge when it comes to negotiating smaller class size and composition.
Scott Susin, an elementary school teacher from Mission, organized a “Size Matters” rally at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody on Monday and heard from many teachers struggling to make ends meet. He has previously organized rallies in Maple Ridge outside Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton’s office.
“The teachers have always been optimistic, but are frustrated that there has been no movement at the negotiating table,” said Susin.
Bing did not return a call for comment.
The government has previously said it will not legislate teachers back to work.