Teachers agree to engage in strike vote this month

B.C. teachers preparing for a strike vote

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) members have agreed to a June strike vote to launch job action in September.

Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers Association (CCTA) president Joan Erb says the union hopes there will be progress in collective bargaining at both the provincial and local levels to avoid a strike. However, if it doesn’t happen, she adds B.C. teachers will take a strike vote between June 24 and 28.

The vote would determine whether teachers would launch province-wide collective action with the start of the next school year in September, she explains.

BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) chief executive officer Hugh Finlayson says the teachers’ union efforts are being put in the wrong place because his organization has only just begun to review the opening statements in the BCTF proposal.

“It’s disappointing the BCTF is talking about preparing for a strike in the early stages of bargaining.”

However, Erb says teachers are eager to “collectively bargain” in good faith for a new contract, and notes the current collective agreement expires June 30.

“We feel that given the [BC Supreme Court] ruling on Bills 27 and 28, we can bring more issues to the table because they are directly involved with class size and class composition.”

BCPSEA doesn’t agree with that, Erb says, so the union members now hope the provincial bargaining team can make sufficient progress in closing that gap.

Noting the court has given 12 months to determine changes to the bargaining process, Finlayson says it isn’t BCPSEA that leads the procedure, but rather it’s the provincial government.

“It is a misreading of the court’s decision and the task in front of us [the government, the BCTF and ourselves] to say that we’re talking about pulling the class size back into the collective agreement for the purposes of bargaining it.”

SD27 Trustee Pete Penner says he hopes an agreement will be bargained in a combined effort of both sides, rather than having legislation imposed.

“Most of the school districts had language that was more favourable to teachers, as far as class size was concerned, than the provincial language that was developed by Bill 27 and 28.

“So, the teachers thought they were going to go back to [that agreement] before the legislation.”

However, that isn’t what the judge decreed, Penner explains, and provided a year’s time to sort it out.

“What the judge said was, ‘we’ll hold things as they are until the ministry and the employers have had a chance to discuss with the teachers what they would like to see’.”

Erb notes that if a strike occurs, initial job action would not see any reduction in teachers’ classroom or volunteered extracurricular time, but would involve their refusal to perform administrative tasks or attend management meetings.

“We will not do report cards, but we will contact parents and make sure our obligation as per the School Act is upheld.”