86 per cent of B.C. teachers vote ‘Yes’ to new six-year contract

METRO VANCOUVER — Students across B.C. are heading back to school Monday after teachers voted in favour of accepting a deal reached Tuesday morning.

Teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of the six-year deal Thursday, which includes a 7.25-per-cent wage increase, a one-time payment similar to a signing bonus, more jobs for teachers, improvements to benefits, preparation time for elementary school teachers and a raise for teachers on call.

More than 31,700 teachers cast a vote – the strongest turnout of the past three ratification votes – and less than 4,400 of them voted to reject the deal.

“Our members have spoken,” said Jim Iker, the president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, after the ballots had been counted.

“The strike and lockout are now over.”

Iker thanked teachers for their “strength on the picket lines and passion for (their) profession.”

“This was a very tough round of negotiations and a difficult time for many of us on strike, but together we successfully pushed back against concessions,” said Iker.

“We all know that this deal isn’t perfect, but it does provide gains for teachers, it protects our Charter rights and increases support for our students.”

Peter Fassbender, the minister of education, thanked teachers for voting in favour of the agreement.

“We can now focus on the path forward,” he said in a written statement. “This long-term agreement is an historic opportunity to work together for students – to enhance their education experience and to support their achievements.”

Fassbender said the quality of B.C.’s public education system comes “in large part because we have such great teachers.”

The ratification of the contract means students will finally get to start their school year next week. Monday is going to be a shortened day, with students returning full-time on Tuesday. Surrey had a professional day scheduled Monday and Vancouver had one planned for next Friday, but both districts have chosen to postpone them. The deal comes after students missed five weeks of classes.

The mood was bittersweet as teachers took to polling stations to cast their ballots earlier Thursday. As details of the agreement emerged, many teachers said they felt it contained few wins.

“I don’t like this agreement,” Robin Holburn, a music teacher at Prince of Wales Secondary in Vancouver, said following a packed meeting of Vancouver teachers at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

“Our negotiating team did the very best it could, I believe … but this is not a good deal for B.C. students and it’s not a good deal for B.C. teachers.”

Even B.C. Teachers’ Federation negotiators bluntly admitted that some provisions of the deal were “not nearly enough.”

Most importantly, class size and composition — the issue at the centre of a 12-year dispute between teachers and the provincial government — remains a sticking point.

The provincial government has lost two B.C. Supreme Court cases over its 2002 decision to unilaterally remove class size and composition from the collective agreement. The government is appealing and a hearing is scheduled next month.

If the court partly or fully restores the 2002 language, according to a memorandum of agreement posted by B.C. Partners in Education, both sides will resume bargaining on the issue.

Posters were taped up on walls and telephone polls along the streets around the Queen Elizabeth Theatre imploring the 4,300 teachers in Vancouver to vote against the deal.

“I’d rather work-to-rule than sign a contract with the devil,” said one homemade sign. “Vote No with a clear conscience and wipe that smirk off Christy’s face.”

But in the end, teachers voted to accept the agreement and end the strike.

Ebru Montagano, a Grade 4-5 teacher at Bayview Elementary School in Vancouver, had guessed teachers would vote in favour of the agreement.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for now,” she said.

The yes vote marks just the third negotiated contract since provincial bargaining for teachers began in 1994. The first was in 2006, when teachers voted overwhelmingly to accept a five-year collective agreement that gave its members a 16-per-cent salary hike over five years and a $4,000 signing bonus. That proposal, reached with the help of mediator Vince Ready, was put forward to ensure labour peace during the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was ratified by 93.4 per cent of teachers who voted. It followed a 10-day illegal strike that closed schools in October 2005.

The second negotiated deal was reached in 2012, when 75.3 per cent of teachers ratified a contract that came after a year-long labour dispute that included a three-day walkout. At that time, just 52 per cent or 21,044 teachers voted and then-president Susan Lambert said that the fact that nearly half of teachers didn’t vote and a quarter of those who did rejected the contract, showed that teachers were not happy with the agreement.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender committed Tuesday to full provincial funding for the new contract provisions, which wasn’t the case with a wage increase for CUPE support staff last year.

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