B.C. teachers walked off the job Tuesday in response to an unfruitful weekend of bargaining with the province that left both sides blaming each other for the stalemate.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) said Monday that government had “squandered” its opportunity on the weekend, not responding to a proposal tabled by the BCTF on Friday until Sunday night.
“We made all these proposals, reducing our wage proposal, [creating] a new fund for class size and composition and a potential fix on retroactive grievances on Friday, and then we waited. The government did not respond fully until Sunday evening — almost a full 48 hours later,” BCTF president Jim Iker said in a press conference Monday morning.
The latest BCTF offer spells out a five-year term and reduces salary proposals to within one per cent of the government’s previous offer.
The provincial government countered Sunday with a reduction in their wage offer for teachers, Iker said.
“They went from seven and a quarter per cent over six years to seven per cent. It’s almost unheard of to backtrack on a wage offer,” he noted.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender responded Tuesday saying the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) actually tabled an “improved wage offer and realistic and flexible solutions to address class composition.”
“It’s fully in line with other agreements we’ve reached with public-sector workers, and it’s about as good as we can hope to get it,” Fassbender said.
Fassbender also called into question the package the BCTF tabled on the weekend.
“After 16 months, the BCTF is still pushing proposals that literally have blanks in them where there should be dollar figures,” he said. “Students have been turned away from their classrooms and teachers are losing income. The BCTF owes it to everyone to fill in those blanks, table their full set of demands, and respond to the comprehensive settlement offer that BCPSEA has put on the table.”
The two sides resumed bargaining on Wednesday; however, nothing had changed as of Coast Reporter’s press time Thursday morning.
On the Sunshine Coast, the strike means teachers can’t help with graduation ceremonies next week, although they are able to attend, and two grad locations were changed Wednesday afternoon to avoid picket lines.
The Pender Harbour Secondary School graduation has been moved from the school to the community centre on June 25, while the ACE-IT culinary arts and carpentry programs were searching for a new place to hold their grad ceremony as of press time.
Teachers are picketing all school district sites from 7 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m. each day while the strike goes on.
On Monday, June 16, teachers also held a rally in Gibsons that brought out a large contingent of supporters.
“We would like to thank everybody for their support. We had over 300 people at the rally on Monday,” said Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association president Louise Herle, noting other unions, school trustees, students and parents came out to stand alongside teachers.
While many parents are supportive of the strike, many are also missing their children’s year end report cards.
Because only teachers have the information to craft report cards, they’re at risk if the strike doesn’t end soon. However, Herle said Grade 12 report card marks are due by June 20, as per a recent labour relations board ruling.
“I also understand just as of today [June 18] that there has been a further application for Grade 10 and 11, and really, there may be a call for them as late as next fall,” Herle said. “Teachers have the report cards, they have the marks, and we will wait to hear from the Labour Relations Board in terms of the timing about how and when marks will be submitted and report cards be given out.”
Superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said if any parent is concerned about their child’s grades, they can speak to their child’s principal.
“There are some meetings that are happening, but mostly principals are in the schools and they will answer phones and emails. So it’s not a problem at all to speak to principals if any parent is concerned about their child’s progress,” Bocking said.
Final exams started this week on the Coast with principals and school district staff overseeing them. Exams will continue next week and may see students forced to cross picket lines.
Bocking encouraged parents and students to keep checking the school district website at www.sd46.bc.ca for updates.
© Coast Reporter