Teachers vote to escalate strike action - InfoNews

Current Conditions

Light Rain
3.1°C

Teachers vote to escalate strike action

BCTF president Jim Iker
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS
June 08, 2014 - 10:28 AM

FULL SCALE STRIKE OR BACK-TO-WORK LEGISLATION BIG RISK

VANCOUVER - A pivotal strike vote this Monday and Tuesday by British Columbia's teachers is no schoolyard game of chicken, and experts advise that tiptoeing, rather than stampeding, towards a strike or back-to-work legislation may settle the dispute far more quickly.

Frustrations in what will likely be a strong union vote of support for a full strike could be channelled into pressure at the bargaining table, said University of the Fraser Valley Associate Prof. Fiona McQuarrie.

"With the emotions running as high as they are, whoever decides to escalate this first is going to take a big risk," said McQuarrie, who's in the university's school of business. "If the dispute then blows up totally out of hand, they're going to be seen as the ones who made that happen."

The B.C. Teachers' Federation's call-to-arms comes after weeks of incrementally rising tactics that haven't resulted in the movement from the government to the extent the union wanted.

McQuarrie is expecting a successful vote, which she said gives union negotiators more leverage. Completely shutting down the workplace, however, she said would be the "last big thing" teachers could do.

Charles Ungerleider, a former B.C. deputy minister of education, said he, too, doesn't expect an affirmative vote will prompt the union to issue immediate notice.

"The fact that you're taking a strike vote doesn't indicate that you're necessarily going to a strike," said Ungerleider, a bureaucrat under the New Democrats from 1998 to 2001 and now professor emeritus with the University of British Columbia.

Students at Rutland Middle School in Kelowna show their displeasure with the teacher's labour dispute on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Students at Rutland Middle School in Kelowna show their displeasure with the teacher's labour dispute on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

The union has typically gone back to its members for a strike mandate over the years he's witnessed bargaining, he said, in order to move up the ladder of escalation in a way that gives teachers some control.

But what has been different in this round of negotiations, Ungerleider said, is the "encouraging" government pledge to hold off legislating a settlement. He believes the union's chief concern isn't wages but getting traction around classroom conditions.

He has some sympathy for teachers, he added.

"There's no question that teachers have lost ground in terms of their own purchasing power," he said. "I'm pretty sure they've lost ground relative to other similarly educated people working in the public sector."

The parties have appeared consistently divided over wages and whether classroom size and composition has a place in contract negotiations.

The union says it's asking for a 9.75 per cent wage increase over four years, but the government calculates that including cost of living increases and other benefits the demand is closer to 19 per cent.

The government's bargaining arm has offered 7.3 per cent over six years, along with a $1,200 signing bonus if the deal is made before the end of the school year.

Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS / Darryl Dyck

The government is expected to save $12 million in teachers' salaries and $4.5 million in support staff pay for each day of a potential strike, according to the education ministry.

So far, rotating strikes have saved the government $16.5 million each week. An additional $1.2 million per day has accrued by cutting teachers' pay 10 per cent based on an employer-imposed lockout.

Teacher Aeryn Williams is still hoping a strike can be averted with a change of heart from the government.

"Everybody is emotional about this. It's our kids and our jobs and our life being impacted," said Williams, who teaches Grades 2 and 3 in Vancouver.

"I would support a strike where we would walk out now."

The union initiated its first stage of job action on April 23, then launched stage two with rotating strikes a month later. It announced the prospect of a full-scale strike last Wednesday.

The employer announced late Friday it has applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board asking the tribunal to designate the marking of exams for students in Grades 10 through 12 as essential.

Results of a strike vote are expected Tuesday night. The union is required to give three days notice before members walk off the job. The earliest possible date for school closures across B.C. would be June 16.

___

Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

  • Popular penticton News
  • Comments
  • Parents arrested after 13 children found chained in house
    PERRIS, Calif. - A 17-year-old girl called police after escaping from her family's home where she and her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, some so malnourished offi
  • California couple's ordinary home held torture chamber
    PERRIS, Calif. - From the outside, the brown-and-beige four-bedroom home looked fairly orderly. The couple who owned it had purchased the house new in 2014 and soon arrived in this Los Angeles sub
  • EDITORIAL CARTOON
  • TRENDING NOW: The rest of the story
                                  Y
  • Weekend jail term for fraud
    PENTICTON - A Penticton woman who used her position of trust as a bookkeeper to fraudulently obtain more than $60,000 from her employer was sentenced to an intermittent jail term today. Judg
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile