Teachers vote could force job action

Teachers across the province are in talks that may result in a strike vote.

The vote, to be supervised by the Labour Relations Board, will determine whether teachers will launch province-wide collective action with the start of the next school year in September. Initially the job action would involve teachers’ refusal to undertake administrative tasks or to attend unnecessary meetings, while focusing all their energies on the classroom.

“If we need to take this action in the fall we will begin by focusing on the central and joyful work of our profession — teaching our students,” said Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. “Parents may not even notice much of a change as teachers intend to continue serving our students in the classroom and communicating with parents about students’ progress. However, we will not be doing administrative work or attending meetings with management.”

Vernon Teachers’ Association president Bruce Cummings said in 2002 the provincial government stripped the language from teachers’ collective agreements that protected class size and support to students.

“This has resulted in a chronic under funding of the Vernon School District,” he said. “In the past 10 years the portion of the provincial budget for education has dwindled from 21 per cent to 15 per cent and  the district has had to cut approximately $15 million from its budget.

“This is a shameful legacy for the district and province and one that directly affects all future students of School District 22.”

Cummings said for most of their education, this year’s secondary school graduates have been short-changed and the VTA believes it’s time to ensure future graduates do not have to endure declining services in light of cuts to the education budget.

“The erosion of services for the grads of 2011 began when they were in Grade 2, practically their whole school career,” said Cummings. “These students have experienced deteriorating learning conditions such as overcrowded classrooms, reduced learning resources, fewer library resources, and an ongoing lack of support for students with special needs.”

Cummings said the conditions worsen as the district is removing 16 teaching positions from five secondary schools in order to save a further $1.7 million despite the fact the district has received funding protection from the government to allow for declining enrollment.

“The impact of the removal of teachers affects schools at many levels: staff/teaching morale as many teachers face job uncertainty; student morale and public confidence in  education as the district looks to restricting course selections and dropping courses such as Mechanics 9 & 10 and the Hockey Academy.”

Teachers are eager to work at both the local and provincial level, said Cummings, to ensure future graduates do not have to endure declining services in light of cuts to the education budget.

“The public is encouraged to show their support for teachers,” he said. “We encourage people to notify our MLA and the school board trustees of their dismay at the chronic under funding of our education system and the corresponding decline in learning conditions.

“It is time for all parties, teachers, parents, board members, and the provincial government to stand up and protect our public education system. Now is the time to restore quality services and staffing levels.”

If there is a lack of progress in collective bargaining, teachers across B.C. will take a strike vote between June 24 and 28. Lambert emphasized that teachers want to achieve a negotiated settlement. Although the BCTF and its locals have been bargaining since the beginning of March, progress so far has been limited.

“We’re facing resistance at both local and provincial tables, with the BC Public School Employers’ Association stalling on the split of issues and local trustees refusing to bargain anything of substance,” Lambert said.

Meanwhile, teachers have identified clear objectives for this round of bargaining. Their top priorities include: improving teaching and learning conditions (class size and composition, caseloads, learning specialist ratios, and time for class preparation), a fair and reasonable compensation package including benefit improvements commensurate with teachers across Canada, and a return to local bargaining as the best solution to local issues.

“We believe that Premier Clark now has an opportunity to make her families first agenda real by restoring funding to schools and services to students this September. After a decade of deteriorating conditions, students should come back to school in September as beneficiaries of the ruling that restores teachers’ bargaining rights,” Lambert said.