Feature Story                                                                                                  Tuesday, June 17, 2014

 

Hitting the Bricks

Chilliwack teachers begin full-scale strike

Staff/Voice photos

 

Chilliwack teachers take part in a protest walk Monday along Spadina Ave.

 

hey weren't officially on strike, but when contract talks between teachers and the government stalled, the response from teachers Monday was to walk out.

 

As a result, public schools across the province were closed. Instead, teachers held study sessions to discuss the negotiations.

 

In Chilliwack, somewhere around 1000 teachers met at the Landing Sports Centre. Later, they took to the street, marching out to Yale Rd. down Hodgins past the hospital and looping back again. Reports are that 1500 teachers marched on the Legislature in Victoria.

 

Schools are now expected to be behind picket lines beginning Tuesday.

 

“Teachers don’t take job action lightly but, after more than a decade of cuts, we are on strike for a fair deal that provides much-needed support for our students,” said Chilliwack Teacher's Association President Clint Johnston in a release on Monday.

 

"In our district, we’ve lost most of our full time teacher librarians and huge numbers of specialist teachers. The result of this is that administrators have to decide whether it is more important for the whole school to have supported access to the library and its resources, or to give individual children the support they desperately need. These are not decisions that should have to be made, our children deserve both," says Johnson.

 

"Often the library time lost is most significant in schools where there are high numbers of struggling readers. Due to the education budget cuts and the stripping of specialist teacher ratios from our fairly negotiated contract in 2002, these specialist services are bundled together at each school," he explained.

 

 

 

Johnston says teachers are determined to get a fair and reasonable salary increase, as well as improved classroom conditions and more support for students. 

 

The government wanted the BCTF to decrease their wage demands which would give them some wiggle room to negotiate class size and composition. On Friday, the government responded by putting a 7 per cent wage increase over 6 years, and a $1200 signing bonus offer on the table.

 

The BCTF had been asking for 14 per cent over 4 years, so, in an effort to move negotiations along, made a offer of 8 per cent over 5 years and a $5000 signing bonus. They then expected a counter offer from the government and when that didn't happen on the weekend, negotiations hit the wall.

 

BC Professional Public School Employers Association Chief negotiator Peter Cameron, said BCTF President Jim Iker was being shifty about what transpired between the two sides on the weekend and slammed him for doing the BCTF's bargaining through the media by calling a press conference.

 

The government actually dropped back its offer from 7¼ per cent to 7 per cent. They wanted teachers to take ¾ of a per cent less in benefits in order to raise the wage offer.

 

It appears the government wants a one-size-fits-all contract in line with the deals they brokered with other public sector unions like the HEU and the BCGEU, which saw 150,000 people settle on a 5.5 per cent increase.

 

But to teachers, that's like trying to put out fire with gasoline. Talks hit the wall and an ensuing a war of words took precedence for the duration of the weekend.

 

Iker told news reporters Monday that the government "sat on its hands".

 

"They had an opportunity to get a deal done and they squandered it," he said.

 

BC's education Minister, Peter Fassbender, shot back that the government has demonstrated its willingness to bargain.

 

 

 

"I think we have a proposal which is about as good as it's going to get," said Fassbender.

  

Both sides have indicated that they want to get a deal before the end of the school year, but it's unclear if that goal is attainable now that negotiations have broken down into a war of words.

 

Currently, both sides are closer in terms of wage demands, but it's the other details, such as class size and composition, that has thrown a spanner in the works.

 

The government says that what teachers are asking for comes with an additional $2 billion price tag annually.

 

Teachers are frustrated. They've been without a contract for over a year. Add to that, the government losing twice in the BC Supreme Court, which found that they violated teachers constitutional rights when it came to bargaining class size and composition. Currently, they're waiting for yet another decision from the court, and if the government loses, it is expected they'll appeal it.

 

The BCTF isn't facing back to work legislation, which has been the case over the last ten years. Instead, they're working under the rules of collective bargaining and chose to exercize their right and strike.

 

But Cameron says that the BCTF isn't using bargaining tools reasonably.

 

"We push back when they do that, quite moderately," Cameron told one reporter Monday. "But, they held a press conference in the middle of an exchange of positions. That's a communications strategy, not a collective bargaining strategy."
 

The alternative is that a third party can establish terms and conditions in compulsory binding arbitration without appeals for 40,000 teachers.

 

 

 

Premier Christy Clark thinks a deal can be reached and doesn't want to legislate teachers back to work like what has been done for the past three decades.

 

It remains to be seen if a deal can be brokered before the end of the school year and how much pressure a full-scale province-wide strike will put on the government. But right now, the goal of ending the dispute anytime soon seems unlikely, and the school year looks done like dinner, with the exception of provincial exams which may be designated an essential service.

 

See more photos below.

 

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Thanks for looking.