Grad still happening, despite strike

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo


TUMBLER RIDGE/CHETWYND – After a weekend that was billed as a time for intense bargaining, both sides in the ongoing dispute between the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the BC Public School Employers Union (BCPSEA) regrettably took to separate news conference podiums Monday morning, June 16, 2014, to announce that a deal had not been reached.

According to the BCTF, the negotiations this past weekend had been anything but intense.

After the union tabled a new proposal on Friday, the government waited until Sunday to issue a response, the details of which BCTF president Jim Iker says, were actually a step backward.

Meanwhile, education Minister Peter Fassbender says “the ball is squarely in their court at this time.”

As a result, teachers began a full-scale strike on Tuesday June 17, after taking the battle to social media on Monday, with “study sessions” held across the province.

The last day of school is June 27.

However, while school is out early, graduation will be happening as scheduled, says Tumbler Ridge Secondary School principal Blaine Broderick . “Everyone recognizes that this is a special event for the kids, and teachers won’t be picketing the cap and gown ceremony if the job action continues until then.”

The only required Provincial exams to complete, says Broderick, are Communications 12 and English 12, which are still happening. As well, he says, “There is an essential services order for grade 12 marks to be submitted, but if the job action continues, marks for the other classes might be in jeopardy, but we’re trying to remain optimistic that a deal will be struck.”

At this point in time, we’re planning on having the awards ceremony, but if the job action continues, that will likely be cancelled.

The message from the BCTF last week was stern, and came in the form of the announcement of the full-scale strike vote results on June 10, 2014.

86 per cent voted in favour of a full-scale strike. Over 80 per cent of the BCTFs membership voted, one of the highest turnouts in BCTF history.

The decision to go to a full-scale strike was made on Thursday June 12. The BCTF was required by the Labour Relations Board to give three full working-days notice.

The proposal put forward by the teachers union on Friday June 13, increased the term of a potential deal to five years, meeting the government half way on their ten-year proposal, which, had previously been lowered by government negotiators to six years.

Friday’s teacher proposal also included a drop in the wage demand from 9.75 per cent over four years, to eight percent over the new five-year proposed term, which is about one percent above the government’s wage offer.

The BCTF also proposed an increased signing bonus. The government had promised a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal were to be reached by the end of June. The BCTF wished to have that number increased to $5,000.

A signing bonus is likely to be settled at a lower number, sources say.

The core issues remain class size and composition, which dictate the allowable amount of students in a class and the ratios of support/specialist teachers.

Despite two Supreme Court rulings, which stated clearly that the government had violated the teachers’ constitutional rights to negotiate class size and composition, there have been no moves on the issue at the table.

The matter is before the BC Court of Appeals. A ruling in January that had stated the government should restore class size and composition to 2002 levels, sits in limbo while the court decision on the appeal is pending.

The BCTF says larger class sizes are a detriment to students’ learning, while the government says larger class sizes have no effect out educational outcomes.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the government has tabled a response to all of these demands and is now waiting for the BCTF to respond in kind.

“We dealt with some of the salary issues, we made a move on that. We also talked about the class size and composition,” he said.

Fassbender refused to offer details.

Iker, however, said the government’s response reflected a missed opportunity to bring an end to the dispute.

“They went backwards,” he said.

According to Iker, the government made an unprecedented move in reducing their wage offer from 7.25 to 7 per cent in response to the teachers Friday proposal.

But still, the government remains committed to finding a deal, Fassbender says.

“The key obstacles are getting a response from the BCTF to our comprehensive proposal and to see if we are significantly closer,” he said on Monday morning. “There are still some significant issues. Everyone focuses on the wages but there are many other cost drivers involved in these set of negotiations that have a significant cost attached to them for the taxpayers of the province of BC.”