An acrimonious labour dispute between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government remains unresolved.
Although the collective bargaining agreement was signed in September, the court battle over the union’s ability to negotiate class size and composition continues.
“Class sizes have never been higher, and teachers struggling to deal with composition issues has never been worse,” said Maple Ridge Teachers Association president George Serra.
He said the provincial government tried to “bargain away” the B.C. Teachers’ Association legal action over the government stripping the union of the right to bargain class size and composition in 2002.
“That it is still in play and is huge for us,” said Serra.
Teachers won a judgement that would restore the contract language to 2002, but in October the government appealed.
A decision is expected this spring, and Serra said the union fully expects the government to pursue the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada if the ruling goes against the province.
Noise from the dispute hit a crescendo in Maple Ridge on Sept. 10, when an angry mob of some 120 placard-waiving teachers confronted Premier Christy Clark at the ACT.
Clark was in Maple Ridge to celebrate Maple Ridge officially becoming a city, and throwing off its “district” moniker.
Chants of “arb-i-tra-tion” and “Shame, shame, shame” drowned out the premier as she took the podium. Clark reiterated she would not use binding arbitration to end the labour dispute.
The strike resulted in two weeks being shaved off the end of the 2013-2014 school year, and another two weeks of the school year were lost in September before it was done.
The labour battle saw the government give parents $40 per day for daycare expenses as it allocated part of the $12 million per day saved in wages while schools were closed.
Parents demonstrated at the offices of local MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton.
Storied negotiator Vince Ready attempted mediation between the two sides.
Teachers eventually signed a collective agreement that gave them a 7.25 per cent salary increase over a six-year term.
“This is not a good deal. It’s just the best that we could hope for,” said Trevor Tasaki, a union picket captain and English teacher at Thomas Haney secondary.
“It’s totally demoralizing to have something that doesn’t even cover the cost of living, and to say that we know that in five years we’re going to be worse off than we are right now, and that’s supposed to be a victory for us? It’s not really a victory,” he said.
Laurie Dwulit, the picket captain at Golden Ears elementary, said teachers can still win class size and composition improvements through the courts.
“We should accept this, because it’s our best bet. But we do need to continue to fight the fight, and hopefully we will have our time in court, and we can get some more support for our needy kids,” said Dwulit.