Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Teachers vote in favour of gradual strike action

Over *29,000 of the province's roughly 41,000 public school teachers voted in last nights job action vote, 89 per cent of whom voted in favour of giving the BC Teachers Federation the ability to take up to three different strike actions to pressure government for a negotiated contract settlement. But union president Jim Iker says parents shouldn't worry: schools aren't shutting down any time soon.

In a press conference at the union's Vancouver headquarters this evening, Iker retraced how the union got to this point, citing a widening rift between the union's negotiating team and government's that's made it impossible to see eye to eye since December.

"The government, through the BC Public School Employers Association, tabled what we considered to be a very insulting initial wage proposal," he said, adding it included an additional two years with no wage increases.

Iker also said government's proposal at the bargaining table to keep class sizes as stated in the Education Improvement Act--which the BC Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional--giving teachers the right to reject them only if government changed the sizes, "was disrespectful and cynical."

Both sides have been at the bargaining table this week and will return to negotiating again tomorrow. As of right now, Iker says, they plan to stay there until a negotiated settlement is reached.

"There is no immediate job action," Iker said, adding strike votes are a normal part of labour negotiations. "[The vote] helps apply pressure to both parties during negotiations. We will only commence job action if there is no progress at the bargaining table."

The first step in job action will be what Iker calls "administrative in nature" actions. Unlike teachers' job action in the 2011-12 contract negotiations, Iker said this won't affect teachers ability to fill out report cards, volunteer for extracurricular activities, or talk to parents.

If talks at the table stall, the next action is rotating, one-day strikes. If that doesn't work, teachers will take a another vote for a full-scale walk out.

"I encourage you to reach out to your local MLA," Iker said directly to parents, "and tell them to work with teachers, work with us, to get that negotiated deal at the table."

However the union leader accused the government of negotiating in bad faith--a charge initially laid on them by the BC Supreme Court ruling regarding bargaining in 2012--for the proposals they have put on the bargaining table and for handing out a document yesterday government claimed was a leaked memo from the union about its strike plans.

"Provocation to try to scare parents. And that was just political mischief," he said, referring to the memo. "After 12 years, it's time to put the political agenda to the side, and it's time to negotiate fairly."

**Education Minister Peter Fassbender responded to the strike vote results in a press release issued shortly after the results were revealed, saying strike votes create uncertainty for parents, teachers, and students, which is why a negotiated settlement must be reached.

"Now that the vote is over, I hope the union can focus on tabling their wage demands so we can get on with meaningful bargaining," reads his statement.

"The employers' bargaining team, for its part, has tabled a comprehensive initial position, including a 6.5 per cent wage increase in the first six years. Class size and composition are on the bargaining table, and that's where the discussions need to occur. We will continue to seek a long-term agreement that's fair for teachers, affordable for taxpayers, and that puts the interests of students first."

But teachers are looking for a return to the class size and composition levels of the negotiated contract they had in 2002. Government overruled their contract later that year with Bill 28, removing class size and composition bargaining from collective agreements. The union also wants a return to specialist teacher-to-student ratios, increasing the number of librarians, counsellors, and special education teachers to 2002 levels.

Finally they want an increase in salary to keep up with their colleagues in the rest of Canada, plus indexed to the cost of living. The union maintains the province's teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country.

The government has said this would cost over $1 billion to implement and the province can't afford it. But Iker says the union believes it's money well-spent, and says he "has to remain positive" a negotiated settlement can be reached.

*Corrected: 11:14 a.m. March 7, 2014 **Updated 11:04 p.m.

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

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus