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School could start on time

Helen Homer, holding a “Families First” sign, pickets outside Garibaldi secondary Wednesday with other Maple Ridge teachers Jim Watson, Jodi Dahle, Areal Cracknell, Michele Smith. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Helen Homer, holding a “Families First” sign, pickets outside Garibaldi secondary Wednesday with other Maple Ridge teachers Jim Watson, Jodi Dahle, Areal Cracknell, Michele Smith.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation should consider ending its strike in time for the new school year, according to the president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.

George Serra’s sentiment will no doubt be met with applause by parents who were frustrated by the disruption at the end of the school year, caused by the acrimonious labour dispute between the BCTF and the provincial government.

“There’s a possibility we could come back to work in September, even without a contract,” said Serra, speaking at a picket line at Garibaldi secondary on Wednesday.

He and the rest of the reps of BCTF locals will meet with union leadership on Aug. 22, and the union negotiation strategy will be discussed.

Serra said prior governments felt pressure to get schools back in session, but Christy Clark’s Liberals don’t.

“What we learned in June is that I don’t think this government cares about schools being shut down.”

There was a lot of impact of the June strike: Some students didn’t get letter grades, grad ceremonies and other year-end extra-curricular activities were disrupted, and then summer school was mostly cancelled. That should have been motivation to get a deal done, he said.

A September strike would have less impact, he added.

Indeed, last week Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the teachers should not expect a government-imposed settlement.

The government has saved about $12 million in wages for every day of the June strike.

De Jong said the government cannot give teachers an agreement this is out of step with deals given to other public sector workers.

Local teachers are doing rotating picket lines at schools in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge over the coming weeks. Wednesday morning at Pitt Meadows, the mood among strikers teachers was resolute and unified.

Helen Homer makes her own picket signs, which are veritable political cartoons in full colour. A favourite has a likeness of Premier Christy Clark with a Pinnochio nose, and above the “Families first” campaign slogan.

“I have to do it, to get my frustrations out,” she said.

Garibaldi teacher Jim Watson also has an outlet. He is immersed in the conversation about public education, and runs an education blog (thecoalmine.wordpress.com) that has had more than 70,000 hits.

A sample:

“What drives me around the bend about the Principals and Vice Principals Association as well as the B.C. School Trustees Association is that the best they can do is to plead for both sides to sit down and come to a negotiated settlement. Well duh! This is not a position at all. Of course everyone wants the issues to be settled!

“To play the role of disappointed parent and say, ‘You two sit down and figure this thing out,’ is patronizing and unhelpful.”

His take is that the Liberal government is happy to run the public education system into the ground, to prop up the private school system.

“This government is committed to free enterprise and trickle-down economics,” he said.

Watson believes that while teachers may debate negotiation strategy, they are resolute about the issues.

The picket line conversation runs the gamut from a lack of school supplies to classroom support.

“We’re negotiating for our working conditions, but we wouldn’t work any less hard,” Homer said.

Areal Cracknell, a Grade 3 teacher at Alexander Robinson elementary, said this labour dispute is not just another negotiation, and she is ready to fight for the system.

“My children’s children will go to school in B.C. public schools,” she said. “You stand up for what you believe.”

She said teachers are going deep into their lines of credit over the strike, and taking part-time jobs.

There’s no sign of the impasse ending. The two sides talked publicly this week about ending their summertime stalemate, and resuming negotiations. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said mediation could be helpful, but only if the union position enters the government’s “affordability zone” before the process begins.

Fassbender said the BCTF demands for improved benefits – including health and dental care, more preparation time and improved parental leave – would cost an additional $225 million per year.

Serra said that is an unfair position for the government to take, adding the BCTF cannot fairly be compared with other public sector unions in the province who have settled recently.

“We had our contract stripped. We’re playing catch-up,” he said.

Already, two mediators have refused to get involved in the impasse.

The Vancouver school board has called for an industrial inquiry commissioner to conduct a report on solutions to the labour dispute.

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