Nelson teachers will take a stand Monday after the BC Teachers’ Federation gave their strike notice Thursday morning following a province-wide vote to support the action.
“We are being backed into a corner by the government and we have worked so hard for the last six months to ensure that parents and students were not impacted by our job action,” said Tom Newell, president of the Nelson District Teachers’ Association.
“The teachers had no choice but to react to it because it was so effecting the public education system.”
Nearly 28,000 BCTF members voted yes to the strike option out of the 32,209 who voted Tuesday and Wednesday, after the B.C. government tabled legislation to impose a “cooling-off period” to the end of August and impose heavy fines on the union and its members for strikes during that time.
Nearly 9,000 teachers did not vote, and more than 10 per cent or 4,263 voted against strike action.
“The teachers of Nelson are extremely upset with Bill 22 and the draconian legislation that is embodied in it,” said Newell.
“It is a piece of legislation that will continue to promote the underfunding of public education both in Nelson and around the province and will strip away the professionalism that teachers have worked so hard to develop.”
The union was required to give two school days notice before being in a legal strike position, under a Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services that allow for up to three consecutive days of full strike action next week.
Education Minister George Abbott said Thursday it is up to teachers whether they refuse to work for one, two or three days next week. Schools will be open, and it’s up to parents if they want to send children to school, he said.
The LRB ruling prohibits picket lines, allowing unionized support staff to go to work. Administrators will supervise students, but normal instruction will not take place.
Newell said the strike strategy is still unfolding, but they will be providing information to parents and citizens in regard to how Bill 22 impacts public education at schools on those days.
“Parents will be upset and disappointed,” said Newell, but added that most parents know that no teacher would take any action like this lightly.
The BC government began debate Thursday on legislation that would extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months, while a mediator works with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in an effort to find common ground on class sizes, special needs support and other issues.
Abbott and Premier Christy Clark would not specify how long the government would wait before passing that legislation. Clark said she wants to give the union time to “climb down from the cliff” after seven months of working to rule, refusing to complete report cards and other non-essential duties.
NDP leader Adrian Dix said he will oppose Bill 22 in the legislature. He called for “real mediation” but refused to say if he would support a raise for teachers.
BCTF president Susan Lambert has dismissed the legislation and restrictions on mediation to work within the government’s two-year “net zero” wage mandate as “bullying tactics.” She said an extra $30 million fund for special needs support this year, on top of more than $800 million currently budgeted, is a “crumb” that won’t even cover inflation.
“I’m very heartened by the commitment of my colleagues to keep public education a very important part of our society,” said Newell.
Today students from Mt. Sentinel and L.V. Rogers will be having their own walkout at 2 p.m., the latter heading in Queen Elizabeth Park to show their support for the teachers.
“We thought it was wrong because Wednesday the entire country just took park in Pink Shirt Day [and anti-bullying campaign] and here the government goes and places this Bill, bullying the BCTF into not striking and fining them for standing up for their rights,” said Chelsea Chirico, a Grade 11 LVR student who is organizing the student walk-out with her classmate Jenna Rigby.
“We believe that’s wrong and the government should be listening to them instead of penalizing them for trying to make education better for students.”
For continuing coverage of the teachers’ strike head to nelsonstar.com.
– With files from Tom Fletcher