Year in Review No. 9: Walking the line

Nelson District Teachers Association president Tom Newell leads local teachers in a rally at Hume School in February. Job action by teachers was among the longest-running this year but they weren
Nelson District Teachers Association president Tom Newell leads local teachers in a rally at Hume School in February. Job action by teachers was among the longest-running this year but they weren't the only ones who walked out to press for a better contract.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

Picket lines were common around Nelson this year, although every dispute was resolved.

Job action by BC teachers, which began as a work-to-rule campaign in 2011, heated up in February.

Both the Nelson District Teachers Association and Kootenay Lake school board chair called for mediation in talks frustrated by the union’s demand for a wage increase and government’s insistence on a net-zero mandate.

But when the province introduced legislation to end the dispute, local teachers fought back.

They rallied outside Hume school and in front of Nelson city hall. They also joined in a three-day province-wide strike. “We are being backed into a corner by the government,” said president Tom Newell. “The teachers had no choice but to react.”

Students at Mount Sentinel, Trafalgar, and L.V. Rogers held their own walkouts.

“We’re not a bunch of kids skipping school because we feel like it,” said Grade 11 LVR student Chelsea Chirico. “We’re kids that care about our teachers and our education.”

Bill 22, which halted job action, also imposed limits on bargaining. Teachers responded by voting to withdraw extracurricular activities.

Kootenay Lake superintendent Jeff Jones said he respected teachers’ right to protest, but found it troubling. “It concerns me gravely that teachers feel they have they take these positions,” he said.

Against all odds, by late June, a government-selected mediator brokered labour peace, albeit for only one year. Teachers had to back down on demands around salary and class size and composition, but bargaining will resume next May. The deal did include some minor improvements in paid leave.

BC Public Schools Employers’ Association chair Mel Joy, who also chairs the Kootenay Lake school board, was pleased with the resolution. “We always believed if the parties could get down to focused discussions, a negotiated deal was possible,” she said.

Meanwhile, employees at Heritage Credit Union and HG Insurance in Slocan Park issued strike notice in August, naming changes to their pension plan as the key issue. But a month later they accepted management’s revised offer. United Steelworkers Local 1-405 described the ratification vote as “close and contentious.”

In August and September, the BC Government Employees Union and Professional Employees Association held single-day walkouts as part of rotating strike action around the province.

Picket lines went up at the forestry building on the North Shore, in front of Kutenai Place and at Nelson city hall. A deal was reached soon after.

And in September, employees at the Nelson and District Communty Complex staged two weeks of rotating job action to back wage demands.

During the walkout, the arena and swimming pool were closed at different times and child-minding was sometimes unavailable, but the facility never shut entirely.

Eventually a four-year contract retroactive to 2011 was reached with wage increases of one per cent in the first year, 1.5 per cent in the second, and cost of living in the third and fourth years, expected to be closer to two per cent.


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