With no end in site to the labour battle between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government, the union’s war chest received a major cash infusion on Wednesday.
At the same time, the union was announcing that more than 99 per cent of teachers voted to accept binding arbitration.
They are willing to return to work as soon as the government also agrees to arbitration – something that it won’t do, Premier Christy Clark affirmed in Maple Ridge on Wednesday morning.
The B.C. Federation of Labour announced it is extending teachers an $8 million interest-free loan to continue the fight. The eight unions who contributed to the $8 million fund are: the B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union, the Hospital Employees’ Union, The United Steelworkers, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees’ Union, Local 378, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Federation of Post Secondary Educators, the Health Sciences Association, and Unifor, whose members include Black Press employees.
Local BCTF union rep George Serra called it “a huge moral boost.”
There were eight unions, representing both public and private sector employees, who contributed to the loan.
“No one will be starved out here. It will be Christy Clark who must end this dispute,” said B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair at a news conference.
Then the B.C. Nurse’s Union donated $500,000 – which will not have to be repaid – to the union’s hardship fund.
Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said he is still waiting for instructions on how the funds will be used.
The intent is for funds to assist the teachers who need it most.
“It’s a huge morale boost, when you’re in this kind of a dogfight, to know you’ve got the support of other unions,” said Serra. “They know this fight is about more than teachers.
There were 30,669 teacher ballots cast on the arbitration issue, and 30,490, or 99.4 per cent, agreed.
He did not have the exact local percentage, but Serra said he has never seen a BCTF vote that the MRTA did not support in greater numbers than the provincial average.
“As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case,” Fassbender said. “That’s because the two sides remain too far apart on wages and benefits.”
BCTF president Jim Iker said the government is obstructing solutions to the dispute.
“This government has said no to arbitration, has tried to stall and block mediation, and has not moved on any monetary proposals in negotiations since June,” Iker said.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the union is seeking $315 million per year more than the government is offering, including wages, benefits and a fund to reduce class size and increase special needs support.
Read related story: Teachers strike mediation hopes rise as Ready speaks with BCTF, province