Teachers voted to strike for at least three days starting Monday, as the government tabled legislation crafted to force educators back to work.
Debate on the government’s Bill 22, which would end the existing job action and bring in a mediator is underway today (Thursday) and could stretch into the weekend.
Over Tuesday and Wednesday, 75 per cent of B.C. teachers voted 87 per cent in favour of a full blown strike, under parameters set out by the B.C. Labour Relations Board. Since September, teachers have refused administrative duties under a work-to-rule job action.
Penalty provisions in Bill 22 would impose a $1.3 million fine per day on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and up to $475 a day on individual teachers for a wildcat strike. Patrick Henry, president of the Sooke Teachers’ Association, said if the province passes its back-to-work legislation before Monday, he suspects educators won’t be cowed.
“I don’t think teachers have a choice. If we let this stand complacently, we will be complicit in the erosion and dismantling of learning conditions in the classroom,” Henry said. “The stakes could not be higher. The government has provoked an already toxic relationship with teachers.”
Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, would end any strike or “teach only” job action, impose a six-month “cooling-off period” and set an appointment of a mediator to look at non-monetary issues such as class size and composition. It gives $165 million over three years to help address class size and special needs issues.
True to the spirit of their relationship, the BCTF calls the legislation “cynical” and says it prohibits teachers from bargaining class size, average class size, staffing levels or case loads for another two years. It also imposes no limit on class sizes beyond Grade 3, the BCTF says.
“This bill … is designed to make teachers complicit in stripping the remaining protections in our own collective agreement,” said BCTF president Susan Lambert in a release. “It’s absolutely Orwellian.”
“The legislation is intended to raise the stakes of any job action. It’s offensive beyond any description,” Henry said. “They have created a situation where we have nothing — and nothing to lose.”
Sooke School District says that schools will remain open under supervision of staff, but parents need to keep their children home from Monday through Wednesday. Superintendent Jim Cambridge said the district doesn’t have the resources to supervise 8,500 students.
Rules set out by the labour board prohibits a picket line — an “information line” is allowed — which allows other union members and non-union staff to enter schools.
NDP house leader and Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan said his party will try to amend the legislation to give a broader scope to the mediator to allow “good faith bargaining.”
“This bill will not improve conditions for kids. We will oppose this bill,” Horgan said on Wednesday.
Horgan said NDP legislators are prepared to try and delay this bill, even with filibusters reminiscent of 2006, but he suspects the B.C. Liberals won’t rush this law through.
“Premier (Christy Clark) isn’t looking for a solution, it’s about presenting teachers as evildoers and getting parents agitated that students will lose instruction time,” he said.
Horgan also noted the clock is ticking for the government to honour a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that overturned an unconstitutional law from 2002 that stripped class size and composition from the teachers’ right to bargain.
The government says Bill 22 and $165 million fund will address that ruling.
“The problem is you have the end of the existing contract and a decade-old action by the government that violates the rights of collective bargaining,” Horgan said. “It’s made a complicated situation even more complicated.”
For updates from the Sooke School District check out www.sd62.bc.ca.