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Strike continues

Tyler Hansen, a teacher on call, waves to cars from the picket line Thursday in front of Beairsto Elementary School. - Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star
Tyler Hansen, a teacher on call, waves to cars from the picket line Thursday in front of Beairsto Elementary School.
— image credit: Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star

B.C. teachers will continue their one-day rotating strikes next week as negotiations continue between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

The BCTF has notified school districts it will continue rotating strikes around the province next week, as negotiations continue to settle their long-running dispute over class size and composition, staffing levels and wages.

BCTF president Jim Iker notified the BCPSEA in a letter Wednesday afternoon.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender reiterated the BCPSEA’s latest offer of a $1,200 signing bonus and a six-year contract term, but indicated the union needs to modify its demands and stop strike action.

“I’m profoundly disappointed that while we’re still at the table, with all of the talk that’s been going on, that children and parents and communities are continuing to be held hostage and put in the middle of this dispute,” said Fassbender.

The Labour Relations Board was to hear arguments Thursday on whether the school districts can cut teacher pay 10 per cent in response to the union’s withdrawal of services.

North Okanagan-Shuswap School District teachers will be on the picket line Monday, while Vernon teachers will strike Tuesday.

With the provincial government still refusing to put the necessary funding on the table to reach a reasonable deal on issues like class size, composition, staffing levels, and fair wages, teachers feel they have no other choice, said Heather Malcolm, president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association.

“Teachers are committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement at the bargaining table,” said Malcolm. “It’s time for Premier Christy Clark to free up the resources that will bring the two sides closer. We want to start the next school year with smaller classes, more support for children with special needs, and extra one-on-one time.

“We also expect the government to be flexible on their wage demands and show some good faith and willingness to move. Teachers know that bargaining is about compromise, but we cannot be the only ones expected to move.”

Malcolm also thanked parents, retired teachers, and community members for their ongoing understanding and support.

“The reaction on the picket lines has been so encouraging,” she said. “Parents know that we are working to improve the education system for their children. I also have the utmost respect for our teachers who have remained so professional and committed to their students despite Christy Clark’s ill-conceived, confusing, and chaotic lockout. Teachers have showed incredible strength and resolve to achieve a fair deal for ourselves and better support for our students.”

Malcolm was on duty at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and while the day started off with a downpour, by the afternoon teachers were feeling a little more upbeat on the picketline.

“We have support from CUPE and at Coldstream school, three kids brought pizza to their teachers and told us how much they love their teachers,” she said. “We’ve had some support from trustees as well, who took the BCPSEA conference call outside of the board office so as not to have to cross the picket line.

“And (trustee) John Armstrong took some goodies to Mission Hill. There has been a lot of positive support, which has really helped.”

As cars honked their support, teachers at Beairsto elementary school walked the picket line Thursday.

“As you can hear, it is overwhelmingly positive, which is encouraging,” said Deb Green, teacher–librarian at Beairsto.

Grade 7 Beairsto teacher Janice Wright said the ongoing dispute is exhausting.

“I’m getting tired of this game of who is winning and who is losing. Shouldn’t we all be winning?” she said. “A colleague of mine once said to me in what other profession do you spend your whole career defending your job?”

Vernon School Board chairman Bill Turanski said he’s not optimistic that a quick settlement can be reached between teachers and the employer.

“They’re far apart between their demands and what the ministry is prepared to offer and I think I can quite safely say that this is disruptive to the district and they are getting the attention of the employer,” he said. “And as things go along we certainly hope for the best, but I am not optimistic — because they are simply too far apart between what they are asking and what the government is prepared to offer. Things are so tentative right now.”

— with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press, and Morning Star photographer Lisa VanderVelde

 

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