Columneetza teachers Devon Hancock (left) and Gaye Burton-Coe were among teachers who braved the cold Monday morning to demonstrate in front of Marie Sharpe Elementary School.

Columneetza teachers Devon Hancock (left) and Gaye Burton-Coe were among teachers who braved the cold Monday morning to demonstrate in front of Marie Sharpe Elementary School.

Teachers prepare for strike vote tomorrow

Teachers in Williams Lake joined teachers across the province Monday in demonstrations to back their demands for a fair contract.

Teachers in Williams Lake joined teachers across the province Monday in demonstrations to back their demands for a fair contract — one that isn’t government imposed.

Teachers gathered with placards and ribbons outside of Marie Sharpe Elementary School Monday for a half hour before school started and a half hour after school ended.

Teachers in School District 27 will also join teachers throughout the province this Wednesday in taking a strike vote, says Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers Association president Joan Erb.

She says polling stations will be set up in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House and voting will take place between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

“We believe that a strong yes vote will put more pressure on B.C. Public Service Employers Association resulting in what we hope will be fruitful mediation.” Erb says, adding results of the provincial vote will be made public March 1.

The B.C. Teachers Federation and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association have been in contract talks since April 2011 with little success.

The escalating action by teachers is in response to last week’s announcement by Education Minister George Abbott that he had directed his staff to start preparing back-to-work legislation for teachers and rejected the BCTF’s calls for the appointment of a mediator or arbitrator to break the impasse on wage and benefit issues.

“They have really pushed us into a corner here and we have been clear from day one that we want to negotiate a fair deal,” Erb says.

She says the impasse in bargaining talks has been orchestrated by the provincial government’s refusal to move on its net zero increase stance on wages and benefits. She says the teachers are willing to work with a unilaterally appointed mediator or an independent arbitrator.

“Since day one, teachers have publicized their willingness to compromise and make concessions but our efforts have been disregarded.” Erb says. “We are open to creative ways to resolve this dispute and welcome any opportunity to discuss possible resolutions with government. As usual teachers remain optimistic that reason and common sense will prevail.”

Erb says the CCTA also sent a letter last week to the School District 27 board asking for the trustees’ support for the appointment of a mediator or arbitrator.

Board chair Will Van Osch says the request will be on the board’s agenda for its regular meeting tonight.

He said the B.C. School Trustees Association provincial council met in Vancouver over the weekend and made a resolution urging the provincial government to support the use of an expedited mediator to resolve the current bargaining impasse.

“The biggest concern I have is about what happens after a legislated settlement,” Van Osch says. “The good will will be destroyed and the teachers won’t give us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to any future considerations such as the B.C. Education Plan or the 21st Century Learning Initiative.”

The B.C. Federation of Labour issued a statement Friday saying B.C.’s public and private sector unions and their more than 450,000 members stand in solidarity with B.C.’s teachers and their desire for a fair, negotiated deal.