Teachers picketed in front of Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson alongside their CUPE co-workers.

No resolution in teacher strike

Tensions mount during first week of job action with no end in sight.

Kootenay Lake district schools are four days into the full strike action by the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

With little movement from the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) since the federation clarified its renewed proposal on Wednesday, there appears to be no quick end in sight.

BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday morning that the government will not “split the difference” between the proposed demands of the BCTF and BCPSEA’s offerings.

“We are now further away from an agreement than we were a week ago,” said Fassbender.  “I want to be clear that BCPSEA is not walking away from the table and we remain committed to reaching an agreement by June 30. Nor is government interested in legislating a contract. We appreciate that brings with it the possibility that this strike could go on for quite a while.”

While opinions differ and negotiations occur or stall provincially, the effects locally are evident.

The BC Labour Relations Board has deemed provincial exams for grades 10, 11 and 12 an essential service and the Nelson District Teachers Association (NDTA) and Kootenay Lake school district are doing their best to be there for their students.

Paul Boscariol, NDTA president and Kootenay Lake school district superintendent Jeff Jones both commented on the effects the labour dispute has had on students and staff.

One difference is teachers have not been available to assist students with exam preparation and course review, something many students take advantage of during exam week.

Jones explained that exams are being supervised  and marked by administrators.

With bargaining happening provincially,  Kootenay Lake administrators and teachers are trying to manage the situation, aware they will continue to work with each other once a deal is made.

The full strike was preceded by escalating phases of limited job action by the BCTF since April 23, all as a result of the back and forth between the two bargaining agents.

Jones said “Teachers and administrators have been working with each other throughout the district to negotiate shifting boundaries and expectations and to maintain our emphasis on meeting student needs, even as the action escalated. As a result of increasing pressure through the strike action, and the actions of the Ministry, tensions are rising.”

Jones said overall relationships have remained professional and the district appreciates the efforts of all of their staff.  “It will take time to reestablish many of our district initiatives but we also know that ultimately we will work together.”

While Jones and Boscariol agree that teachers have always worked cooperatively with the employer and vice versa, even with the best amount of cooperation there are still issues that have caused strife.

Boscariol said “The lock out and the removal of keys which clearly demonstrates the employer does not trust the teachers, has resulted in destroying relationships which have taken years to build.”

Jones said the Ministry’s actions to reduce salaries and the district’s decision to ask teachers to hand in their keys prior to the full withdrawal of services was contentious: “Unfortunately both actions are normal in the course of this kind of job action and strike.”

Jones also commented that CUPE staff are significantly impacted because as members of a union, they have chosen not to cross the teachers’ picket lines.

“Members of the NDTA, like all other teachers around the province, would much rather be in their classrooms teaching,” said Boscariol.  “Everyone was extremely disappointed with the lack of bargaining from BCPSEA during the weekend long bargaining session.

“The biggest issue at the table is class size and composition. As a result of the stripping of these provisions in 2002, we have seen increased class sizes, and more students requiring extra help without the necessary resources to assist them.  Schools have lost teacher-librarians, elementary school counselors and special education and learning assistance teacher time.”

The BC Supreme Court ruled Bill 28 and 22 (which removes class size and composition from collective bargaining), as legislated by the BC government, were unconstitutional in two separate rulings in 2011 and January 2014 and that the government was not negotiating with the BCTF in “good faith.” In the 2014 ruling, the judge awarded the BCTF $2 million in damages; the BC government has appealed the court’s ruling.

The BCTF and BCPSEA have been negotiating on and off since last year and BC teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.