BC’s teachers ready for a strike vote

Almost two years to the day since their last walkout, the BC Teachers Federation is calling for a new strike vote.

BCTF President Jim Iker said Tuesday, February 25, that the union needs to “push back against major concession demands, an unfair salary offer, and a deliberately confrontational attempt to reverse the recent BC Supreme Court decision on class size, composition, and staffing levels.”

The BCTF strike vote will take place on March 4, 5, and 6.  Results will be announced on the evening of March 6.
 Once a strike vote is taken, the union has 90 days to activate it with some sort of job action.

Job action, if needed, will depend on negotiating table progress and will occur in stages, but any initial action will not:

  • Include immediate school closures or disruption for students;
  • Stop teachers from participating in extracurricular activities; or
  • Affect report cards or communication with parents.

“Teachers care deeply about our schools, our students, and our communities,” Iker said in a statement. We don’t take a strike vote lightly. However, this government seems incapable or unwilling to let the BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiate fairly with teachers. Christy Clark, her government, and BCPSEA are insisting on rollbacks, freezing wages, and ignoring the Supreme Court of British Columbia.”

Union negotiators have met 40 times with their government counterparts but claim that the BC Public Schools Employers Association (BCPSEA) “has tabled “unreasonable” proposals:”

  • New language that would strip all provisions on class size, class composition, and staffing levels for teacher-librarians, counsellors, special education, and other specialist teachers; and
  • A salary offer that starts with a 0.5% increase on the date of ratification. The increase is not retroactive. Because the previous contract expired last June, this means zero for all of 2013–14 school year to date. The proposal is followed by another zero for 2014–15 school year and then various ones and point fives over the next four years. The last four years of the 10-year term, an idea teachers rejected in June by a province-wide vote of 96%, would feature an indexing scheme.

“The move to once again strip class size, composition, and staffing levels from teachers just days after the BC Supreme Court’s ruling showed total disrespect for the law, for teachers, and for students,” Iker said in the statement. “This government, through BCPSEA, is trying to pretend Justice Griffin’s ruling never happened. Their proposal to eliminate class size, class composition, and staffing levels would ‘supersede and replace all previous articles that addressed class size, composition, and staffing levels.’ For 12 years teachers have worked to defend our rights, our working conditions, and our students’ learning conditions, and once again we find ourselves facing a government focused only on confrontation.”

It is worth noting that the government is — as is its right — appealing the BC Supreme Court’s ruling that a law restricting teachers’ bargaining rights is unconstitutional.

On the salary front, BCPSEA’s offer means BC teachers are being asked to take up to two more years of zero pay raises after no salary increases in 2011–12 and 2012–13.

“Despite most other public sector workers receiving increases in the range of 3.5 to 4% over two years as part of the co-operative gains mandate, the government has directed BCPSEA to pursue a totally different agenda with teachers,” Iker said. “Teachers are asking for an increase that addresses the rising cost of living and a market adjustment that reflects how far we are behind other teachers in Canada. We believe that’s fair and reasonable.

On the call for a strike vote, Iker said that in light of the little progress made at the bargaining table teachers’ “only recourse… is to apply pressure through a strike vote.”

“Such a vote, however, does not mean imminent school closures,” he said.  “We will consider all job action options and timing very carefully. Our goal is to reach a negotiated deal at the bargaining table without having to resort to job action.”