B.C. teachers vote in favour of job action

BCTF president says initial action would be administrative in nature

B.C. teachers voted in support of potential job action this week.

Of the 29,301 teachers who cast ballots, 89 per cent voted yes.

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“B.C. teachers have sent a very clear message to our government,” said Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, March 6. “It’s time to negotiate in good faith, take back the unreasonable proposals and offer teachers are fair deal that also provides better supports for our students.”

Iker said job action would only commence if there’s no progress at the bargaining table.

Once a strike vote is taken, a union has 90 days to proceed with job action.

Initial job action would be administrative in nature, Iker said. It wouldn’t include school closures or disruption to students.

“Teachers will not be asked to stop participating in voluntary activities,” he said. “And teachers will not stop writing report cards or communicating with parents.”

If there’s no movement on key issues, job action could escalate to rotating strikes.

“There will be no full-scale walkout as a result of this vote,” Iker said. “Such action would require another province-wide vote of the BCTF membership.”

He called the government’s first wage offer insulting, citing up to two years without pay increases.

The government has offered a 0.5 per cent increase on the date of ratification that’s not retroactive. The government’s contract with teachers expired last June. Iker said in an earlier press conference that this means teachers received no pay increase in 2013-2014, would receive no increase for 2014-2015, with various 1 per cent and 0.5 per cent increased over the following four years.

Iker said the BCTF wants cost of living clauses in any agreement and better market comparability across Canada.

“To Premier Christy Clark and Minister Peter Fassbender, for 12 years your government has been imposing unconstitutional laws, under-funding education and trying to provoke teachers and it’s time to stop,” he said. “Having the employer put language on the table to immediately delete our working conditions days after we won them was just unacceptable and very unreasonable, and that insulting salary offer that was put on the table initially was unnecessary.”

Justice Susan Griffin ruled in January that the government must restore collective bargaining provisions that relate to class size and composition and the number of supports provided in classes for special needs. Language will be returned to their collective agreement retroactively but would likely be the subject of ongoing collective bargaining, she wrote. The government is appealing the decision.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender reiterated in a media conference call March 7 that it’s difficult for the government and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association to bargain with the BCTF, when it has yet to put a full offer on the table.

He said the government doesn’t necessarily need a 10-year-deal, but one with enough detail that it could provide stability for the government, teachers and schools.

“A strike vote does create additional uncertainty for students, parents, support workers and teachers,” Fassbender said in a media release. “That’s precisely why we need long-term stability in our schools and why we need to pursue a long-term agreement at the bargaining table.”

Patti Bacchus, chairperson of the Vancouver School Board, previously told the Courier that agreements made in bargaining must be fully funded by the government. The district has struggled to fund previously negotiated wage increases.

The BCTF estimates 80 per cent of teachers who are eligible to vote cast a ballot.

Bargaining resumed March 7 with more days at the table next week.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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