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Picketing government offices an act of solidarity: BCTF's Lambert

British Columbia Teachers' Federation President Susan Lambert said she believes pickets of government buildings this morning were legal, but she didn't know who organized them.

"I have no idea what happened this morning," said Lambert. "I wasn't here. I was in Burnaby at a school in Burnaby . . . I guess that was an action of solidarity on the part of the locals trying to do something that was requested of them. I have no idea how that happened or what happened there."

Lambert spoke with reporters in Victoria after a rally in front of the legislature that included speakers from the BC Federation of Labour, the BCGEU, CUPE and students. Estimates of the number of people at the rally, which covered the lawn, ranged from 5,000 (from security and police) to 15,000 (from BCFED President Jim Sinclair).

This morning Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said the BCTF was responsible for the pickets and the government is asking the Labour Relations Board to clarify that picketing government offices is illegal under a ruling the LRB made Feb. 28 and is seeking the ability to assess fines.

The LRB's ruling set bounds on the BCTF's strike and ruled out picket lines that would block access to schools.

"I don't think it was illegal," Lambert said. "I think that was people doing what they need to do. I think walking on a street and acting in solidarity with everyone else, that's not illegal."

The BCFED's Sinclair said the government ripping up contracts is a better example of something that was illegal.

BCGEU President Daryl Walker said some 2,000 of his members are believed to have stayed off the job this morning. "We tell our kids not to break the law, but the government when it chooses to just changes the law because it doesn't like what it's hearing."

Walker, by the way, also noted that his union does not have a "me too" clause in its collective agreement that would force the government to match whatever it gives to the BCTF. Education minister George Abbott has said breaking net zero for the teachers would force it to give raises to other unions as well. The BCGEU is the largest union of provincial government employees.

Lambert said the BCTF will be seeking guidance from its members on how to proceed with the job action. "It seems to me this bill is a bill that is absolutely a dreadful, brutal bill, and we have to resist it in any which way we can," she said. "What we're talking about is resisting undemocratic, illegal legislation."

Update, March 6, 2012 at 4:21 p.m.: The LRB has adjourned a hearing on the legality of this morning's picket lines without reaching a decision. Allison Matacheskie, the vice chair and registrar for the LRB wrote: "The British Columbia Teachers' Federation, B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and the British Columbia Federation of Labour have committed that the picketing has ceased and there is no intention for there to be any further picketing in B.C. In light of these commitments, I have decided that an expedited hearing is not required." The hearing will be rescheduled if the applicant notifies the LRB of any "alleged further similar activity."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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