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Maple Ridge teachers strike again Monday

Teachers strike outside Maple Ridge Secondary School on Tuesday, May 27, the first day of rotating strikes planned by the B.C. Teachers
Teachers strike outside Maple Ridge Secondary School on Tuesday, May 27, the first day of rotating strikes planned by the B.C. Teachers' Federation.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

There are signs of growing frustration in the school system as the labour dispute between teachers and the government grows increasingly bitter.

Rotating strikes will continue next week, but will be on Monday in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District rather than Tuesday, as they were the first week of the escalated job action.

An angry employee met trustees arriving for the school board meeting at the School District No. 42 office Wednesday night, holding a sign that read, “10 per cent pay cut” and “What didn’t we do?”

He also had a piece of tape across his mouth that said, “Locked out.”

Phillip Gray, a psychology teacher at Maple Ridge secondary, said he was furious when he was emailed his pay stub on Wednesday, and saw the amount that he would be getting on payday.

Gray was frustrated at district staff, saying they did not have to cut his cheque by 10 per cent in advance of a Thursday hearing of the Labour Relations Board.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation asked for the hearing, to argue the partial lockout, with its 10-per-cent pay cut, is illegal.

Gray asks “What didn’t we do?” on his sign because, he explained, teachers have not practically been “locked out” of any of their work. The 10-per-cent pay cut is simply a penalty, he says, as teachers are already giving up a day of pay each week for their rotating strike.

His message to the government: “Go ahead and do it – this is not going to get you a contract, and it’s ruining morale in your schools.”

Inside the meeting, Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra agreed with Gray that the board should have waited.

“The LRB is ruling on it tomorrow [Thursday],” Serra pointed out.

He added, the board might be creating an administrative headache for itself – it may have to give the money back to teachers.

Serra noted that between the rotating strike and partial lockout, teachers have so far been hit with a pay cut that equals 1.4 days lost.

School district spokesperson Irena Prochop said the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association instructed school districts to make the deductions before May 30.

“We had to implement the deduction on Wednesday so that we were in compliance,” she said. “If the LRB ruling overturns that deduction decision today, we would reverse it and would deposit that amount into our employees’ bank accounts. This process would start tomorrow [Friday] morning.”

Serra noted that teachers have to have their job action approved by the LRB before they occur because education is deemed an essential service. The rotating strikes have been approved by the LRB.

Teachers are frustrated that the government is doing what it wants, without first having it approved by the LRB.

In the board meeting, trustees disagreed about whether to weigh in on the teacher negotiations.

Trustee Ken Clarkson said other boards, including Victoria, have publicly asked for mediation to begin.

He noted school boards have not been consulted by the government in the bargaining process. They were not asked about the decision to lock out teachers.

“We’re spectators in this current crisis,” said Clarkson.

He wanted to let the public know the board’s position on bargaining.

“Otherwise, we’re sitting here like ducks on a log.”

Trustee Susan Carr agreed, saying the bargaining impasse is “hurting kids,” and that a mediator should resolve it.

She too said boards are “powerless on the sidelines.”

Chairman Mike Murray said any discussion about labour issues should not be done in public, whether the board takes a position or not.

He was supported in that stance by the rest of the board.

• For stories from around the province, see a map of Black Press coverage.

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