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Half of BC teachers vote against bargaining delay

About half of the province's public school teachers have voted against what the BC Teachers' Federation calls "government interference" the teachers' current collective bargaining process.

The vote, which took place from June 26 to today, was in response to the pause in collective bargaining instigated by the government last week. The ministry of education rescinded the bargaining mandate negotiated between the union and their employers, the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA). They have appointed Peter Cameron to work with teachers and the BC School Trustees Association to develop a new mandate that will hopefully lead to the 10-year agreement government wants.

Ninety-six per cent of participating teachers voted in favour of keeping government away from the provincial bargaining table.

"It shows that our members want to support the determination of our bargaining team to get a negotiated collective agreement," said Jim Iker, who officially takes over as BCTF president from current president Susan Lambert on Sunday. "We dont want any negative interference by government. What we need is the resources provided by government to enable a (negotiated) agreement."

Only 21,562 teachers participated in the vote, a little over half of the union’s estimated 41,000 members. Iker says those numbers are "fantastic" given it is the last week of school, and it is higher than the union's vote to ratify the previous collective agreement last year.

In addition to the vote, many teachers, and some school districts, responded by writing directly to Fassbender, asking him to reinstate the current bargaining mandate.

"We hope that Minister Fassbender understands that this strong vote and the many letters teachers have sent to him are evidence of the deep commitment we have to our profession and the tremendous determination we have to negotiate a deal at the table," Lambert said.

Minister Fassbender was not available for comment. Instead the ministry sent The Tyee an audio clip of Fassbender's response when asked by reporters about the vote on June 26.

"I'm delighted that they're talking to their membership," he said.

"I think whatever feedback they get will guide their discussions, but it will also help us in terms of maybe some of the hurdles we have to overcome.

"They don't know the details of what a 10 year deal might be. I think what they need to do is be patient, allow their leadership to sit down with us in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, and let us go back and tell them what a long-term deal looks like."

But although Iker says he's optimistic a negotiated collective agreement can be reached, government needs to bring more money to the table first.

"If you listen to comments made by various government members yesterday, they're saying there is no new money, even for a long term deal," he said. "We're hoping that that's not the reality. To have a negotiated collective agreement at the table, we're open to a longer term deal, we never said we weren't. But we know that for successful bargaining to take place, we need resources."

Both sides say they'll be back at the bargaining table in September.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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