THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Teachers in B.C. voted overwhelmingly in favour of moving to a full strike if contract negotiations continue to stall and that could mean an early summer break for some students and limited report cards for others.
The history of non-agreement between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the bargaining agent for the province, goes back decades and the past year has been no exception.
The two sides have been attempting to settle on a new collective agreement since February 2013. Contract term length, class size and composition and funding have been the main sticking points and while the government reduced the term length to six years from 10 the teachers’ union says it has not seen enough movement on the other items to come to an agreement just yet.
In March 2014 teachers voted in favour of moving to the first two phases of job action, restricted administrative and supervisory duties and then rotating strikes as necessary. In April phase one began and a month later rotating strikes began across the province. Just prior to the rotating strikes the government announced a partial lockout and pay reduction to teachers.
This week teachers voted again, this time to move to phase three of job action — a full strike. Tuesday night the union announced more than 80 per cent of the approximately 41,000 teachers in the province voted and of those the vast majority, 86 per cent, voted in favour of a full strike.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender was quick to issue a statement on the vote results, noting they were ‘not unexpected.’
“While the BCTF leadership received the mandate they sought, no one should interpret this as any kind of enthusiasm on the part of teachers to shut down schools,” he said. “I know teachers would prefer to be in their classroom and I know students and parents would rather finish this school year on a positive note.”
POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF A FULL STRIKE
Because the union must give three working days notice if they intend to move to a full strike the earliest a strike could begin is next Tuesday, June 17.
In anticipation of a possible full strike the government applied to have the grading of exams and completion of report cards for secondary students considered an essential service.
For students in Grades 10-12 this would mean the 15 provincial exams scheduled between June 16-26 will go ahead as planned at their school and every effort will be made for these exams to be marked and final course marks presented in a ‘timely way.’
Post secondary institutions in B.C. are aware there is a chance of a delay with final marks from students graduating Grade 12 this year, though students were already pre-admitted based on current marks.
For students in Kindergarten through Grade 9 schools will be closed during a full strike and report cards will be sent out, though they could be ‘more abbreviated than normal.’
Week three of rotating strikes continues this week, with teachers in school districts 22 and 67 (Vernon and Okanagan Skaha) on the picket lines today and teachers in districts 23 and 83 (Central and North Okanagan) on strike Thursday. Teachers in Kamloops-Thompson (SD73) will strike on Friday, June 13.
Several groups throughout the region have been offering alternative child care options such as day camps on strike days, though it is uncertain at this point what options will be available in the event of a full strike.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Jennifer Stahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.