Bickering builds over strike vote

The BC Teachers Federation will hold a strike vote next week as an attempt to force the provincial government back into contract talks.

The teachers’ union said theres been a year of unsuccessful bargaining followed by the recent decision by the provincial government to appeal the BC Supreme Court decision on class size and composition.

“However, this government seems incapable or unwilling to let the BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiate fairly with teachers. Christy Clark, her government, and BCPSEA are insisting on rollbacks, freezing wages, and ignoring the Supreme Court of British Columbia,” said BCTF president Jim Iker.

The vote would be done March 4-6 with the results announced March 6. Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.

The union has said job action would depend on results at the contract negotiation table but initial would not include school closures, would not affect report cards or communication with parents, and would not include teachers stopping extra curricular activities.

Langley Teachers’ Association president Gail Chaddock-Costello said no other public sector union is being asked to accept a 10-year contract and everything offered by the province has been insulting. The BCTF has spent 12 years in court fighting the government over the contract, and class size and composition, and the province lost, she noted.

The BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) negotiates on behalf of the province which has launched an appeal of the Jan. 27 court ruling that sided against the government.

The demands include stripping the contract of provisions related to class size and composition, and staffing levels for teacher-librarians, counsellors, and special education and specialist teachers.

“It’s not a table that sets any appetite for teachers,” Chaddock-Costello said of the offer to teachers.

The province is also offering a wage increase of 0.5 per cent and one or 0.5 per cent increases in the coming few years. The B.C. government has said it wants a 10-year contract to ensure labour peace.

“This government, through BCPSEA, is trying to pretend Justice Griffin’s ruling never happened,” Iker said. “Their proposal to eliminate class size, class composition, and staffing levels would ‘supersede and replace all previous articles that addressed class size, composition, and staffing levels.’”

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he’s disappointed the BCTF choose this route and that the province has and is committed to staying at the negotiating table.

“I think a strike vote is provocative,” Fassbender said.

As for the BCPSEA proposal, he said it’s an opening bargaining position and is waiting to see what the BCTF is proposing for a contract.

“To the parents and the stdents and the teachers of the province our goal is a negotiated settlement,” he said.

He said he stands by the Liberal government’s track record of 13 years in office in relation to finding settlements with other public sector unions.

Fassbender wouldn’t say whether the government would legislate an end to any job action.

“I’m not going to speculate on anything at this point,” he said.

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