If they can’t negotiate a deal this weekend, teachers will walk off the job Tuesday.
Members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation voted 86 per cent to strike, with a record 33,000 members casting ballots Monday and Tuesday. The union served 72-hour notice Thursday that it will escalate to a full-scale strike next week.
Teachers will not be in class on Monday either, announcing that their escalating job action would begin with a study session that day. The educators will not be picketing, but neither will they be at school.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District chair Mike Murray said he had been hoping the strike vote was simple leverage for the union to use in negotiations, but that members didn’t intend to strike.
Murray said the labour unrest has created tension between employees and employee groups in the school system, and it has been a frustrating end to the school year. He acknowledged that he has a conflict of interest in discussing the negotiations – his daughter is a teacher in New Westminster.
Murray remains hopeful that the strike notice is the impetus to get a deal done.
“This may yet still lead to a solution,” he said. “We all hope the two parties can redouble their efforts and get an agreement.”
Union president Jim Iker said negotiations will continue through the weekend.
“Let’s concentrate on getting the deal,” Iker said. “This can be averted by Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Then we can all be back in schools.”
A full strike would not have a dramatic effect on high school instruction, as classes in many high schools are virtually finished. The last day of regular classes at Maple Ridge secondary, for example, is June 17, and after exams, school is closed June 26.
What’s more, the government asked the Labour Relations Board to declare report cards and final exams an essential service. On Thursday, the board ruled that all Grade 12 students must receive a report card by June 20, and teachers must administer final exams to students in Grades 10-12.
The last day for elementary students was scheduled to be June 25, so for them, with rotating strikes, there could be about 11 days of instruction lost.
Students in Kindergarten to Grade 9 in Maple Ridge will find their report card an abbreviated, one-page document, said George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association. That has been the effect of the government imposed lockout, which docked teachers’ pay by 10 per cent and ordered them not to be at school 45 minutes before or after the work day, or to work over their lunch hour.
“It takes teachers hours and hours to do report cards for their classes,” said Serra, noting the assessment for a student can easily take longer than an hour.
One local school could be harder hit by a strike than most. Kanaka Creek elementary operates on a balanced calendar and is scheduled to remain in session until July 23. Murray noted that the impact on the school will depend on the length of the strike.
“It seems like an additional penalty to a group of people who happen to be involved in a year-round system,” said Murray.
The province has pledged to end its partial lockout of teachers at the end of the school year to enable summer school operations, but it’s not clear whether summer school would happen under a full strike.
The province has offered a $1,200 signing bonus if teachers accept its proposal of 7.25 per cent in wage increases over six years by June 30.
The BCTF’s latest proposal is for increases totaling 9.75 per cent over four years, plus partial cost-of-living adjustments in each year tied to inflation.
The two sides have differing estimates of the compounded grand total of the union’s wage demand – the BCTF estimates it at 12.75 per cent over four years, while BCPSEA pegs it at 14.7 per cent and says other non-wage compensation costs will further increase the bill, perhaps beyond 19 per cent.
“After 12 years of deep cuts, 3,500 teaching positions lost, and 200 schools closed, we are urging this government to reinvest in public education,” said Iker. “Teachers are doing their utmost in an underfunded and under-resourced system, but students are not getting the support or one-on-one time they need. Our kids deserve so much more.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender pointed out that school support staff unions came to an agreement after five days of intense bargaining, and said the same can be done with the BCTF.
“Up to now, the BCTF’s total compensation demands have been four times more than other recent settlements. The BCTF has indicated that they will submit a new wage proposals and BCPSEA looks forward to receiving those,” said Fassbender.
“Teachers deserve a raise but it must be in line with recent agreements covering nearly 150,000 public sector workers – including 34,000 school support workers.”