Almost two months into the new school year, the job action taken by teachers continues with no end in sight.
But the president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association wants to reassure parents that the education of students is still teachers’ No. 1 priority.
“Our job action is minimally impacting students and we are in good contact with parents and we are encouraging parents to contact us, so this is a pretty gentle form of job action,” said Bruce Cummings.
“We’re committed to keeping parents in touch with the progress of their kids.”
Negotiations began before the end of the last school year in the wake of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled government legislation, which stripped teachers’ contracts and limited their ability to bargain, is unconstitutional.
Job action, implemented on the first day of school, involves teachers’ refusal to undertake administrative tasks or to attend unnecessary meetings, while focusing all of their energies on the classroom.
Cummings said class size and composition is the leading issue for teachers, followed closely by benefits.
“We have benefits that were established 20 years ago and they are way out of date,” he said.
“We have an eyeglass rider and it’s $125 every two years, and that’s just one example.
“Essentially, benefits are right behind class size and composition — it’s probably one of the most important ones and we want it resolved.”
Along with improved benefits, teachers want salaries in line with the rest of the country. An average B.C. teacher with 10 years’ experience earns $21,000 less than a teacher with equivalent experience in Alberta, according to the union.
“If you compare us to nurses, who have similar education, they have an apprenticeship of about five years, and after five years they are up to their full pay,” said Cummings.
“For us it’s 10 years, so that’s another big discrepancy, they end up higher and they get there faster.”
Cummings said he has received 57 letters from elementary and secondary schools expressing their concerns, one of which is the Vernon School District’s cancellation of recess because of a lack of supervision.
And, while many teachers are using the required Daily Physical Activity (DPA) time in lieu of recess, they are doing it at the expense of any kind of break for themselves, said Cummings.
“So this is a way for them to get the kids up and moving, essentially it’s a coping strategy, it’s still not acceptable, there’s no down time for the teacher at all, so the first break they get is at lunch time.”
Cummings understands that the district is cash-strapped, but believes the choices that have been made during the job action have not been productive.
“There are only six districts in the province out of 60 that cancelled recess, and in 2002, we had similar job action, and the district did not cancel recess, so we have to wonder what is different this time,” he said.
Cummings said he is not optimistic of a quick solution, but at this point he hopes the provincial government will avoid any kind of back-to-work legislation.
“We’re starting to get the posturing from the government, which always happens. I hope the government just sticks with negotiating and that’s preferable to anything.”