Two local voices on opposite sides of the ongoing teachers’ strike agree they would like to try mediation before a settlement is imposed.
Both Mel Joy, chair of the Kootenay Lake school board, and Tom Newell, president of the Nelson District Teachers Association, want to see talks resume with a third party, even though the dispute has already dragged on for nine months.
“Our board believes legislation is not the answer,” says Joy, who also chairs the BC Public School Employers’ Association, the provincial bargaining agent.
“Having a negotiated agreement is the best for both parties.”
Last week, Education Minister George Abbott announced the government would impose a settlement after a fact finder concluded the sides were so far apart a negotiated resolution was highly unlikely.
The legislation is expected to be introduced this week. However, Joy says it does nothing to help find a long-term solution.
Over the weekend, the BC School Trustees Association passed a motion urging the government to appoint an expedited mediator. The BC Teachers’ Federation has already asked for mediation.
Joy says she wasn’t surprised the fact-finder believed the sides have a long way to go, but didn’t expect the government to move so quickly to end the dispute.
“We were surprised the announcement came from the minister right after the report came out,” Joy says. “On the other hand, the strike has been in place since September. It’s not like we haven’t been working towards a solution.”
Newell, meanwhile, says he was gratified the report pinpointed the problem as the government’s mandate ruling out any net increase in wages or benefits during the current round of negotiations.
“He nailed it. The government created an untenable bargaining situation,” Newell says. “What union would ever accept that?”
Nelson teachers will meet Tuesday after school to discuss the situation and then join their provincial colleagues in a vote to determine whether to escalate job action, up to and including a full walkout. Results are expected Thursday.
Teachers across BC are also participating today in a “Day of Action,” which includes rallies in the Lower Mainland and outside the legislature.
Newell says he doesn’t think it’s too late to appoint a third party to intervene, although “it takes an amazing mediator with some kind of influence to force a party to move off their entrenched position.”
He says a mediator’s involvement may also help their cause, if it “exposes the government’s intractable position.”
“Maybe in the face of the public saying ‘You can’t strip a contract and cost of living is not an unreasonable request’ the government may begin to feel real pressure and come to their senses and realize this is not the right approach.”
Failing that, however, Newell says teachers “may need to increase the pressure.”
A work-to-rule campaign that began in September has seen teachers refuse to write reports cards, supervise playgrounds, or meet with principals.
The union’s application to the Labour Relations Board to escalate job action under an essential services order begins at 6:30 p.m. today and is expected to go late into the evening, with a decision expected Tuesday morning.