Teachers' strike means return to school uncertain for B.C. students

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      Parents with children in public schools have reason to be anxious.

      Although negotiators for striking B.C. teachers and the provincial government say that they’re talking, there’s not much time left before the school year starts.

      Not even the chair of the Vancouver school board knows for sure if classrooms will be full or empty on September 2.

      “I’m hearing from a lot of parents who are just really frustrated with so much uncertainty,” Patti Bacchus told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Bacchus was interviewed on August 14, the same day that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association jointly announced that mediator Vince Ready is available until “later in August” to assist them.

      According to her, the VSB has not yet determined a cutoff date to declare that classrooms will remain closed after Labour Day if no agreement is reached soon. However, Bacchus noted that the labour dispute has affected preparations for the new school year.

      “To be frank, we’re already behind because of the way the school year ended,” she said. “A lot of the preparations for September, in terms of classroom organization and timetabling and staffing and even these things like textbook sorting and returning, those things didn’t happen in many cases.”

      Bacchus explained that preparations for the new school year typically start in the spring. A lot happens in June, toward the end of the current school year. “In some schools, some of that was done, but not all,” Bacchus said.

      Meanwhile, the school district has been busy with facilities maintenance and upgrading over the summer, according to Bacchus.

      Teachers, who have been without a new contract since last year, began phased job action in March. In May, the government imposed a partial lockout. Teachers began a full-scale strike on June 17, which shut down schools two weeks ahead of schedule.

      “What we may see is a later start, a delay in getting students really settled to their timetables and classes,” Bacchus said.

      Bacchus mentioned that she’s hearing that the government is likely to implement its plan to give parents $40 a day per child under the age of 13 for childcare if schools do not open on September 2.

      “If the government is actually putting money and time into that, I think that’s ominous—that they don’t expect to be back,” Bacchus said. “It worries me that that’s where their focus is, instead of focusing on putting everything into an effort to resolve this dispute.”

      Labour relations expert Mark Thompson doesn’t doubt that like any other dispute, the ongoing fight between teachers and the province will end. “The question is when and how,” Thompson told the Straight in a phone interview.

      The professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business expects the government to make some concessions on class size and composition.

      “I would say, ‘We’re prepared to move somewhat in your direction but not a lot. Not enough that it’s gonna embarrass us with all the other unions and to cause the province to move into deficit,’ ” said Thompson, role-playing chief government negotiator Peter Cameron.

      Class size and composition are the main issues that the two parties have fought over since 2002. That year, the B.C. Liberal government of the day, with Christy Clark as education minister, stripped these working conditions from the teachers’ contract through Bill 28.

      According to the BCTF, $275 million in funding per year has been cut from the education system since class-size limits and staffing-level requirements in classrooms with special-­needs students were removed.

      Bill 28 was declared unconstitutional by the B.C. Supreme Court in April 2011, a month after Clark was sworn in as premier. Given one year by the court to pass new legislation, the province enacted Bill 22, which was virtually identical to the previous law. That too was deemed unconstitutional by the same judge who ruled on Bill 28, Susan Griffin.

      In her January 27, 2014, judgment, Griffin concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the BCTF after the Bill 28 decision.

      “One of the problems was that the government representatives were pre-occupied by another strategy,” Griffin wrote. “Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.”

      According to Thompson, back-to-work legislation remains an option for the province. As far as teachers are concerned, they will have to decide if it’s worth taking a chance on what happens in the legislature, he said.

      The legislative assembly is scheduled to resume sitting on October 6. Over a week later, the B.C. Court of Appeal will begin hearings on the government’s appeal of Griffin’s ruling regarding Bill 22.

      Thompson doesn’t anticipate the government will withdraw its appeal as a “point of honour”.

      “The judge found that they bargained in bad faith because they kind of wanted a strike,” Thompson said. “Any employer that wants a strike can get one. It’s not hard.”




      Aug 20, 2014 at 1:56pm

      Teachers should get back to work

      Doreen Harrison

      Aug 20, 2014 at 3:37pm

      I think it is ludicrous that the government is offering money to parents of students under 13. They are trying so hard to get parents on their side and yet, many of the people recieving this money will be teachers! The very people the government is trying to discredit! I am just playing devil's advocate here, I am on the side of the teachers, all the way!


      Aug 20, 2014 at 3:58pm

      Teachers get an F - FAIL.

      Fed up

      Aug 20, 2014 at 4:43pm

      Teachers.....give us more money and we can teach your kid better, Government, ok, we will not increase class size but we will not give you more money. Teachers, well that's all well and good, but we still want more money for the job that we studied for and to become knowing that we get so many days off just like the students and also our pro-D day and stat holidays, like we said, we will do everything as we normally do but give us more money....think of the children.


      Aug 20, 2014 at 4:47pm

      Lets see.....
      $40/day per child
      30 students in a class.
      That works out to be $1200 per day per class.
      Assuming 20days/month of class x 10 months /year = 200 days
      Minus 30 days for Winter Break, Spring Break, Pro-D and statutory holiday = 170 days/school year
      Lets round it down to 150 days in the school year to make things easier.
      That work out to $1200 x 150 = $180 000 /year
      I'm sure many teachers in the province will be happy with that.

      Cut the Smoke

      Aug 20, 2014 at 5:04pm

      To FT. Enough already about the lame daycare comparisons. Everyone knows that the $40 pere day was just a strategic move to tell the BCTF that every dollar lost id the strike goes into September is lost. It will not be put into a side pot just to give back as a signing bonus when you come to an agreement.

      Is that too hard to understand?


      Aug 20, 2014 at 5:16pm

      Fact: government did not negotiate in good faith with the teachers

      Fact: government illegally tore up legal contracts between the teachers and their employer

      Fact: BC is one of the most expensive provinces to live in and yet our students are funded at $1000 less per student than the national average

      Fact: BC teachers are among the lowest paid in the country and yet they have maintained BC's national and international ranking in education as #1

      Show some respect to these people!

      Treat them and pay them fairly...based on what teachers in this country earn, not what a custodian in bc earns.

      The only reason many of you can bitch and complain here is because you got an education...from teachers.


      Aug 20, 2014 at 5:55pm

      Just let the kids start school on time, they're the ones who are really losing out. As a parent, I used to be behind the teachers, but they've let this go on too long. If the kids don't start on time in September, I'm going to feel the teachers are more concerned with their money than with the kids.

      I'm part of the HEU union. 8 yrs ago under Gordon Campbell they took away 15% of our wage. 8 years later I still don't make what I did then. Our new contract says over the next 4 years we'll get about 30 cents an hours extra - OVER 4 YEARS - 30 cents! I barely make $21 per hour after a $10,000 schooling. Teachers stop crying and get back to work!!


      Aug 20, 2014 at 5:58pm

      I am guessing the teachers will go back simply because they've used part of their pay as their "voice" (of course, after losing 10% by being locked out by the government). The public has heard, but now it seems it will be in their hands because the government has the power and money. How much do we VALUE public education? It is enough to keep up concern and advocacy for supporting children with special needs, specialists and block funding?

      mark smith

      Aug 20, 2014 at 6:23pm

      As a product of the BC education system I say without reservation fire all these useless over paid teacher/babysitters and start again. let them re-apply for their jobs. Since the teachers feel they are so under paid let them see what other types of real work they can do. Baby sitting pays around $10 per hour plus no benefits. And dish washers receive about the same. when I graduated I could barely read or write I had to teach myself. BC teachers are over paid and useless. the kids will learn more watching YouTube videos.