B.C. teachers to vote on arbitration bid

B.C.’s striking teachers to vote on sending contract to binding arbitration; a move the province has already rejected

B.C.’s striking teachers will vote Wednesday on the union’s proposal to take their long-running dispute with the province to binding arbitration, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said Monday.

The BCTF is willing to send not only its wage and benefit demands but its proposal for class size and special needs support to an independent arbitrator, Iker said. The BCTF wants $225 million a year to improve classroom conditions, spent only on new teachers, and the government has budgeted $75 million, some of which is paid to teaching assistants who belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The B.C. government rejected arbitration on the weekend after it was presented Friday by Iker, as the strike went into a second week of the new school year. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he would not hand the budget implications of a union settlement over to a third party.

Iker said results of the vote will be available Wednesday evening. A yes vote will give certainty to the union’s position and binding arbitration is the “easiest way” to get schools open again, he said.

NDP leader John Horgan also called on the government Monday to make the “unprecedented” move to accept arbitration. Horgan said if the government is as secure in its belief its wage offer is fair, it should have no concern about the results.

“We’re in uncharted territory, where we’ve had the longest strike in B.C. history, and it’s time we put an end to it,” Horgan said.

Asked if he would support raising taxes to pay for a new deal with the province’s 40,000 public school teachers, Horgan said the budget has contingency funds to cover unexpected costs.

“If it was good enough for doctors, it should be good enough for teachers,” he said, referring to a 2002 arbitration that resulted in $400 million in increased doctor fees.

NDP education critic Rob Fleming said an essential service ruling by the Labour Relations Board to reopen schools isn’t likely to offer a quick solution. The board views the fall strike as separate from the long teacher work-to-rule campaign and two weeks of closed schools last June, and so far neither side has applied for such a ruling, he said.