Teachers begin one-day strikes next week

North Okanagan-Shuswap district teachers walk out Tuesday and teachers in the Vernon district going on the picket line Thursday

Teachers across British Columbia begin one-day rotating strikes next week, with North Okanagan-Shuswap School District teachers walking out on Tuesday and teachers in the Vernon School District going on the picket line on Thursday.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation plans to start one-day rotating strikes at schools around the province on Monday, rejecting the offer of a $1,200 signing bonus for an agreement by the end of the school year.

BCTF president Jim Iker said Tuesday the bonus doesn’t make up for the government’s wage offer of 6.5 per cent over six years. A simultaneous threat to cut teacher wages five per cent or more because strike action is “just so disrespectful, so unnecessary, and we’ll be dealing with it at the Labour Relations Board,” said Iker.

Unless there is some compromise on major issues, one-day strikes with picket lines will be staged at one group of school districts in each of the first four days next week, with teachers returning to work across the province on May 30.

Iker reiterated the union’s position that more pay, more teachers and a return to contract language guaranteeing class size and special needs support are needed to reach a settlement.

Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the province’s 60 school districts, informed the union last week that a five per cent pay cut will be put in place “soon” in response to the first phase of strike action.

Cameron said the union’s latest wage demand amounts to 15.9 per cent over four years, far beyond what other provincial public service unions have received. The BCTF maintains its wage proposal is 13.25 per cent over four years, including cost-of-living increases based on each year’s inflation rate.

Vernon School District superintendent Joe Rogers said the picket lines are across the board, with CUPE’s support staff members also not reporting to work on Thursday.

“We are encouraging parents to keep their children home that day,” said Rogers. “We do not have enough people in the building, in some cases we’ll have a principal or vice-principal in the school but we will not be offering any instruction.

“If parents are willing to cross the picket line, the kids will be supervised by a principal or vice-principal so it depends on how many kids show up, but I can’t let them in the gym or the shops.”

The BCTF began work-to-rule action in April, refusing supervision outside classrooms and communication with school management. Rotating strikes were also authorized by the BCTF membership in a March vote, and beginning to shut down schools could result in an effort to cut teacher pay by 10 per cent.

“The school board is hoping they get back to the bargaining table and solve the issue so we can get back to business as usual,” said Rogers. “Our strike isn’t until Thursday so if there is anything on the table, maybe we’ll luck out and have something resolved by then.

“It’s certainly not great timing for students, especially Grade 10s and 12s who are preparing for provincial exams.”

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the signing bonus and reducing the contract term from 10 years to six were significant efforts to move toward a settlement.

“Unfortunately the announcement today says that the BCTF feels that disrupting classrooms, affecting children and their families is going to help to reach a settlement,” Fassbender told reporters in Vancouver.

— With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press