Teachers to vote on strike action

BCTF to challenge end-strike legislation, but will be back on the job when spring break is over

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is going back to court to challenge the legislation that has put an end to its latest strike action, but teachers will be back on the job once spring break is over.

At a news conference in Vancouver Wednesday, BCTF president Susan Lambert announced that union members will take part in a province-wide vote on April 17 and 18 to decide if they will withhold voluntary extra-curricular duties to protest Bill 22. The legislation gives the provincial government the authority to impose heavy fines for strike action during an imposed six-month cooling-off period.

A second member vote would have to be held with majority support before the union approves any strike action that would defy Bill 22 and trigger fines of $1.3 million a day for the union and $475 a day for individual teachers.

Year-end report cards will be completed to allow students to apply for scholarships and post-secondary education, Lambert said.

Vernon Teachers’ Association vice-president Kevin Bader said the motions that were passed at the BCTF annual general meeting last weekend make up the action plan teachers have adopted to repeal Bill 22.

“So our job as a local is to take that package to our members after spring break to make sure they’re fully informed and to have a full membership vote,” said Bader, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillview elementary school.

He said teachers are particularly concerned about the negative impact of Bill 22 on class size and composition. The legislation removes any effective limits on class sizes from Grades 4 to 12 and eliminates caps on the numbers of students with special needs assigned to any particular class.

“The mood is that teachers are angry and we’re concerned about what our classes are going to be like next year — I could be going back in September to a class of 50 students,” said Bader. “Teachers and students know classroom conditions better than anyone. We have been speaking up for the past 10 years about how reduced funding has resulted in high school courses no longer being offered, classes being over-crowded, and the bottom line: less time per kid. This government has not listened to our concerns about real problems in real classrooms, their constituents, parents, or kids. The Supreme Court and the United Nations have both said the B.C. Liberals have passed illegal legislation.

“So teachers are left with a big decision. Do we break those laws or do we let a law continue to destroy one of the highest-ranked public education systems in the world.”

Lambert appeared to rule out any further work-to-rule action as students return from spring break, but she left the door open for individual districts to begin immediately withholding voluntary extra-curricular duties. Vernon is one of several districts  that have already decided to withdraw from extracurricular activities.

“We’re a federation of autonomous locals, and yes, they will be making their own decisions,” Lambert said. “The plan envisions a province-wide action, and that would be one that would I guess join up with the local actions that have already been started.”

Bill 22 goes beyond forcing an end to the strike that has had teachers refusing to complete report cards or meet with administrators since last September. It reimposes restrictions on class size and special needs support that a B.C. Supreme Court decision last year ruled were done without adequate consultation. Lambert said that will be a focus of new legal action.

“Bill 22 addresses the judgment by repealing it in one paragraph and reinstating it in the next,” she said. “That’s more than arrogant.”

Education Minister George Abbott returns next week from a 10-day visit to China promoting educational exchange. He said he will appoint a mediator when he returns, to seek agreement within the terms of the government’s two-year wage freeze.

The BCTF did not release the “action plan” worked out during delegate meetings in Vancouver this week, but did indicate that it rejects a provision of Bill 22 that could pay teachers extra if they teach classes of more than 30 students.

Lambert termed the extra pay offer “cash for kids” and called it “totally unethical.”

— with files from Black Press reporter Tom Fletcher.