Strike set for Tuesday, but Langley teachers leaving classrooms Friday

After teachers across the province voted overwhelmingly to give their union leadership a strike mandate, the BCTF has announced that a full-scale strike will commence on Tuesday, June 17.

But with a scheduled one-day walkout in Langley going ahead for Friday, June 13, as planned, and a BCTF call for study sessions across the province on Monday, June 16, local schools will effectively be out as of tomorrow – unless teachers and the government sign a deal.

Even after the strike vote was taken on Tuesday, both sides in the dispute between B.C. teachers and their employers, the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association, had expressed hope of a settlement as of the middle of the week.

On Tuesday, teachers voted 86 per cent in favour of a possible walkout.

BCTF leadership were considering their options on Wednesday.

Gail Chaddock-Costello, president of the Langley Teachers Association, said Wednesday that the teachers could increase job action up to a full strike, but don’t have to go that far.

Both sides used conciliatory language and said they hoped a strike could be averted and a contract hammered out at the bargaining table.

“I know teachers would prefer to be in their classrooms and I know that students and parents would rather finish this school year on a positive note,” education minister Peter Fassbender said in a statement. “It is now up to the BCTF leadership to decide if they are going to move to a full walkout.”

He said the union needs to come to the table with “realistic expectations.”

This morning (Thursday), BCTF president Jim Iker announced that strike notice had been served, with full withdrawal of services starting June 17.

Tuesday’s strike vote, he said, “showed how firmly teachers are committed to doing what’s necessary to reach a fair deal.”

Iker added that there is still hope for a settlement.

“There are still several days left during which both sides can hunker down, reach a settlement, avoid a full-scale strike, and end the government’s lockout,” he said.

“We’re ready to move,” he said, but added the caution, “My message to Christy Clark is, come to the table with new funding, an open mind, and the flexibility needed to reach a fair settlement that will support teachers and students.”

Teachers’ rotating strikes or partial work stoppages that have been taking place since the end of May will continue as planned, which means Langley teachers will walk out, as scheduled, tomorrow (Friday, June 13).

As well, the BCTF has called for all teachers to participate in study session on Monday, June 16. Schools will not be picketed, but teachers will not be at their schools.

“To get a fair deal and avert a full-scale strike,” Iker clarified, “B.C. teachers are looking for improvements to class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers to increase one-on-one time for students.”

He added, “In addition to improvements to student learning conditions, a fair deal must also include a fair wage increase for teachers.”

“While this is disappointing news for students and parents,” responded Fassbender, “the strike notice was not unexpected.”

He said the government’s “main focus” was still on getting an agreement with teachers by June 30 “and put this disruption behind us.”

But in the meantime, the BCPSEA’s application to designate provincial exams and report cards for senior graduates as an essential service has been approved by the Labour Relations Board.

“That means students in Grades 10 to 12 will be able to write their exams as scheduled, and Grade 12 students will receive their final marks in a timely manner,” Fassbender said.

He focused on the BCTF’s wage demands, noting, “Teachers deserve a raise but it must be in line with recent agreements covering nearly 150,000 public sector workers.”

Support staff in schools recently concluded a deal after five days of talking.

Bargaining is expected to continue between the BCTF and the BCPSEA through the weekend in an effort to forestall the strike.

Meanwhile, the government’s partial lockout, banning teachers from school grounds except within 45 minutes of the start or finish of the school day, and cutting teachers’ pay 10 per cent, continues.

Both sides in the dispute suggested they could still get a deal by the end of June. At issue are teachers’ salaries and the size and composition of classes.

Teachers want smaller classes and tighter limits on the number of students with special educational needs per classroom.

Local board officials are waiting to see what happens.

“At this point, there’s many more unknowns than knowns,” said acting school board chair Rob McFarlane.

Some issues, not including wages and classroom sizes, are still decided locally, and local teachers unions still directly negotiate with their districts.

The LTA and Langley School District concluded their negotiations earlier this year and have an agreement both sides were happy with, said McFarlane.

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