Teachers to vote on provincial ban

Class in session as normal come Monday, but spring sports, grad ceremonies likely affected.

B.C. teachers are considering a ban on all extracurricular volunteering, the provincial teachers’ union announced Wednesday, and that could mean an end to spring sports and grad ceremonies.

While Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows public school teachers voted to voluntarily withdraw extracurricular activities at a special general meeting two weeks ago, the provincial ban would be mandatory for union members.

“Our options really became limited once we became legislated [back-to-work],” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra. “No wants to do this, but we have to think long term, and Bill 22 will hurt kids way more than three months without extracurricular activities will.”

Bill 22 is the Liberal government’s back-to-work legislation, passed last week.

While the bill provides for mediation, which teachers have been asking for, issues like class size, composition, and the government’s net-zero mandate of freezing public sector wages can’t be negotiated according to the bill.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert said the mediation process amounts to the government asking teachers to play a game of hockey without sticks.

“Government can rethink this legislation, it can take the higher road,” she said.

The BCTF will be launching a legal challenge of Bill 22, which it contends violates the human rights of teachers by denying them freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

In the meantime, classes will resume as normal on Monday in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows after the two-week spring break, and teachers will be preparing year-end report cards, Serra stressed.

But beyond that, parents shouldn’t expect teachers to volunteer their time while the government is forcing them back to work and attempting to strip their contract.

“What we’re telling teachers is not start anything new. If they are in the middle of a season or a production, that’s fine,” Serra said. “Sports and grad ceremonies will likely be affected, and it will be up to parents and administrators to keep them going.”

However, should the provincial extracurricular ban be adopted by a vote in mid-April, local teachers would have to comply with the ban.

“It would be no different that crossing the picket line,” said Serra. “They would be subject to sanction and there could be suspensions.

“But that’s in the extreme. We generally don’t do that.”

Teachers across the province will vote April 17 and 18 to adopt the BCTF’s “action plan,” which also leaves open the possibility of an illegal strike. However, that would require a second vote by B.C. teachers.

Serra said there was some support at the BCTF’s annual general meeting last weekend for an immediate illegal walkout, but the majority opted to move to ban extracurricular volunteering first, then escalate their protest of Bill 22.

“The contract stripping hasn’t happened yet, and that will be the trigger point,” Serra said.

An illegal walkout would mean stiff penalties for teachers. Bill 22 includes fines of $475 per day for individual teachers, $2,500 per day for union officers, and a minimum of $1.3 million per day for the BCTF.

“The fines are unprecedented,” said Lambert. “They are punitive and an attempt to silence teachers.”

Local Liberal MLA Marc Dalton, himself a former teacher, said he found the BCTF’s position unfortunate, and blamed Lambert for riling up teachers unnecessarily.

“I have a lot of respect for teachers – I am one – but I have problems with the leadership of the BCTF,” he said. “Being a teacher, I have questions about class size, composition and seniority, and I feel Bill 22 has a pretty good approach.”

As for the bill’s restrictions on what can be negotiated during the mediation process, Dalton said it is necessary to take things off the table given the financial situation of the provincial government.

“We’re not going to have a negotiator say where the salaries should be,” he said. “We’re not in a position to be able to give more.”

When teachers walked off the job in 2005, Dalton, then a teacher-librarian, crossed the picket line after the strike was deemed illegal. Should teachers eventually vote to walk off the job in an illegal strike this time around, he said it will be up to each individual teacher to decide whether or not to support an illegal action, regardless of the union vote.

“That’s a decision I made personally, and that’s a decision every teacher has to make.”