Teachers start provincewide strike after talks fail

Teachers start provincewide strike after talks fail

VICTORIA — A full-scale, provincewide strike hit B.C. public schools this morning after a weekend of bargaining failed to produce a contract for teachers.

“I’d hoped that you’d be looking at a potential settlement,” B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said Monday in a comment directed to teachers. “But that didn’t happen.”

Teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of escalated job action last week, and as of today are in a legal position for a full-scale strike. Teachers were not in schools Monday as they continued job action at study sessions and rallies around the province, including a rally for south Island school districts held at the legislature Monday afternoon.

Legislature security staff estimated the crowd at 1,500.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters that the government tabled a “comprehensive” proposal Sunday and was waiting to get the union’s response. “The ball is squarely in their court at this stage,” he said.

Iker said that during weekend bargaining the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which represents the government, “squandered an opportunity” for a settlement after the BCTF tabled a number of new proposals. Those included an increase in the contract term to five years with a salary increase of eight per cent, compared to the previous union proposal of about 12 per cent over four years, which included cost-of-living provisions.

The BCTF also asked for a $5,000 signing bonus.

Among teachers at the legislature rally was Bill Myles, who teaches social studies at Spectrum Community School. He said he and other teachers at the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association study session on Monday were “collectively in shock and dumbfounded” when they heard that the new wage offer wasn’t accepted.

“We’re not being unreasonable, we want a deal,” he said, adding that the situation facing the BCTF is hard to take.

“I’ve been teaching for 27 years and I’ve never seen it this bad. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. It’s distressing.”

Ben Kjernisted, a Parkland Secondary School student who attended the rally, said he is “all for the teachers.”

“But it’s kind of a bummer for graduation — making complications with grad, all the teachers can’t join in.”

Iker said the BCTF put forward a good offer. “Our proposal put us within one per cent of the government’s proposal,” he said. “This shows a willingness to get a deal, to be reasonable.”

He said the union also proposed creation of an education fund to address issues such as class size, class composition (which includes the number of special-needs students) and numbers of specialist teachers.

The fund would allow local unions and district officials to meet in order to allocate funding, with an independent third party to provide binding resolution should disagreement arise.

Rather than bargaining 24/7 as promised over the weekend, Iker said the government side “sat on their hands for two days.”

Peter Cameron, the government’s lead negotiator, accused Iker of misrepresenting negotiations and pushing the two sides further apart.

He took particular offence at Iker’s suggestion that the employers’ association reduced its wage offer to teachers. “That is completely wrong and Jim Iker has to know it’s wrong,” he said.

Cameron also said the union’s wage and benefits proposal comes in at more than double what other public-sector unions have received.

“There’s a truckload of benefit provisions that they’re seeking that cost a lot of money,” he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

For more stories from the Times Colonist, click here.