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BCTF announces action plan against Bill 22

The BC Teachers' Federation revealed some elements of its new action plan to fight Bill 22 today, including the possibility of a full-scale walkout in the coming months.

Union President Susan Lambert told reporters this afternoon that the over 700 delegates at the teachers' Annual General Meeting, which took place in Vancouver from March 17-20, debated and reworked the plan over the course of the three days, finally voting "overwhelmingly" in support of taking it back to their local members for a vote.

The plan starts this coming Monday with teachers heading back to their teaching duties after spring break, but also informing the public about their issues with Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, which they plan to take government to court over.

"We believe that this bill has all the hallmarks, all the characteristics of previous bills that have been found illegal by the United Nations, illegal by our Supreme Court, and so there will be a legal challenge," Lambert says, referring to the teachers' challenge of Bills 27 and 28, which stripped teachers' collective agreements of the right to bargain class size and composition in 2002. Both the International Labour Office and the BC Supreme Court ruled in the teachers' favour.

But that's just the beginning. On April 17 and 18, BCTF members across the province will vote on phase two of the plan, which includes the possibility of withdrawing from extracurricular activities, and even a full-scale teacher walk out.

"We're putting government on notice," Lambert warns.

"Government has a choice: government can rethink this legislation, government can rethink its policies around public education, and we're expecting that government will listen to the voice of teachers, we've been asking for so long."

Some union locals have already declared their intention to withdraw from extracurricular activities beginning next week, which Lambert says is their right as autonomous locals.

Lambert says if government still refuses to make changes to Bill 22, the union's executive committee will meet after the vote to decide when and if another vote would take place for a walkout. The union requires 51 per cent of members in favour for the vote to pass.

Bill 22 makes walkouts illegal, fining the union at least $1.3 million per day, union leaders or representatives at least $2,500 per day, and individual teachers $475 per day of illegally striking. Lambert told reporters she didn't know where the union would find the money to cover those costs.

In the meantime, the BCTF has complied with a government request for suggested mediators to further the bargaining process between the union and their employer under Bill 22. Lambert says they wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education last week, suggesting Justices Stephen Kelleher and Ian Donald for the position, but that doesn't mean the union supports the mediation process laid out under the bill.

"We have done it with a caveat, because in our view the entire process is skewed, is biased, and there is no level playing field here. There's a predetermined end, we call it a mock mediation, and so we have done that, we have forwarded those names with a provisio that we will be looking at the legal implications of legislation that forces one party to play hockey without the sticks. It's unfair," says Lambert.

Education Minister George Abbott is in China this week, but told The Province on Monday he hopes teachers think twice before embarking on an illegal walkout.

"I hope that cooler heads will prevail," he said. "When people go on strike, it’s not the government that is punished – it’s students and parents.

"They have to find childcare alternatives, they have to find employment alternatives."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee and The Tyee Solutions Society

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