Russ Morrison

School picketers having broader effect in Sooke school district

Summer maintenance, preparation work sporadic due to picket lines

There is still no contract.

There is no progress, no mediator, or even any negotiations between the B.C. Teachers Federation and the government. Signs continue to hang around the necks of teachers picketing in front of schools scheduled to be brimming with students Sept. 2, but time is running out.

“We are out here every day to show the public that we are not out on holiday, that we care about public education,”  said Sooke Teachers Association vice-president Paul Waterlander. “We want a contract that we can say ‘yes’ to, so we’re picketing every day.”

The part-time history teacher at Belmont secondary, said teachers are volunteering in shifts, picketing schools as early as 5:30 a.m.

Between 75 and 100 teachers have taken days, weeks or a month of time walking the line, standing and sitting in front of a rotating roster of schools including Belmont. This has been strategic, Waterlander said, a move that prevents the Canadian Union of Public Employees workers who normally clean, maintain and complete capital projects at the public schools in summer, from coming to work.

“We are out here to apply more pressure. We figure petitions don’t really work – we tried everything else,” he said. “The only way is to financially hit the government. In our district, we have one driveway leading to the school board office and the facilities building behind Belmont. Those people are not able to cross pickets – they can’t go to work.”

While the pickets aren’t up at every Sooke School District schools all day, CUPE Local 459 president Jan Peever said they have prevented many custodial staff from cleaning and maintaining schools, applying new finishes to gym floors and moving portables to the schools that need them. She reiterated their union, which has ratified a deal with the province already, is not prepared to cross picket lines at any time.

“If our members show up at a school site and there is a picket line up, they go home,” she said. “If a line goes up while they are at work, they will pack up and go home. We will not cross any picket lines.”

Unlike teachers, who are not getting paid by their employer while on strike, the CUPE deal includes a provision allowing for full pay, regardless whether members work or honour picket lines and leave the jobsite.

“Each union has a fair degree of autonomy. They will choose to do what they choose to do, that is what they have a right to do,” said assistant district superintendent Dave Betts.

“Personally, I would like it if folks could get in and clean so the schools can be ready for startup, but that is beyond my control.”

If a deal is reached between the teachers and the province, district staff will make every effort to assess each school and get summer prep work done in time to start the school year, he said. However, resurfacing of gym floors and the moving of some portables may not happen given the picketing and the late time frame.

Betts hopes the labour disruption that began in June doesn’t bleed over into the new school year.

“We are all teachers, everyone who works in the education system: principals, vice-principals, superintendents, assistant superintendents. These are our colleges, so it is difficult to see this happen,” he said. “We are hearing negotiations may start again in early August, so we hope we get a negotiated settlement before September.”

Regardless of where the negotiations stand, he said, schools will be open for registration starting Aug. 25.