Teachers to start rotating strikes

Reject province’s offer of six years, signing bonus

Teachers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will go on strike Tuesday as part of rotating job action across the province and as tensions rise between the union and B.C. government.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced the rotating strikes on Monday as it rejected the government’s offer of a $1,200 signing bonus if the union approved a six-year contract offer  with 6.5 per cent in wage increases by the end of the current year.

The escalating job action also defies a government warning that it will cut teacher salaries if a deal doesn’t get done this year.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows acting school superintendent Laurie Meston said the job action will not yet interrupt scheduling of provincial exams, but it does disrupt students who are preparing to write them.

“It is always disruptive, but it is their right to strike,” Meston said of teachers. “It’s unfortunate for the kids.”

She encouraged parents who need child care for Tuesday to make the necessary arrangements.

Job action is also frustrating for parents, but Kellie Marquet, chair of the district parent advisory council, is sympathetic to educators.

“Our current government is trying to bully teachers, and I hope that through this next escalation of job action, parents ask questions and learn what it is teachers are fighting for on behalf of your children.”

She added that teachers must ensure they retain class size and composition language in their contract, which was the subject of their recent court victory over the province.

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said the plan in this next stage of job action is for the strike to continue on a weekly basis.

But that will depend on the progress at the bargaining table.

Because teaching is deemed an essential service in B.C., the BCTF had its job action approved by the Labour Relations Board.

The BCTF will put a new issue before the labour board this week, asking whether Victoria cutting salaries over job action amounts to bad faith bargaining.

“We will be taking this latest threat to the LRB,” said Serra.

He noted the province already threatened to bill the union for health benefits if it continued job action, but backed off.

Serra said teachers should not settle for a one-time signing bonus of $1,200.

“It needs to be on the grid – for years to come, and for new teachers.”

BCTF president Jim Iker said Tuesday the bonus doesn’t make up for the government’s wage offer of 6.5 per cent over six years.

A simultaneous threat to cut teacher wages five per cent or more because of strike action is “just so disrespectful, so unnecessary … “

Iker reiterated the union’s position that more pay, more teachers and a return to contract language guaranteeing class size and special needs support are needed to reach a settlement.

Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the province’s 60 school districts, informed the union last week that a five  per cent pay cut will be put in place “soon” in response to the first phase of strike action.

He warned it could escalate to 10 per cent if job action escalates.

The BCTF began work-to-rule action in April, refusing supervision outside classrooms and communication with school management.

Cameron said the union’s wage demand amounts to 15.9 per cent over four years, more than what other provincial public service unions have received.

The BCTF maintains its wage proposal is 13.25 per cent over four years, including cost-of-living increases based on each year’s inflation rate.

Missed school days could be made up by extending the school calendar into summer vacation, but that decision would be made by the Education Ministry.