Campbell River businesses caught in middle of teachers’ job action

Dozens of employees are suffering from lost wages as revenues are down significantly due to cancellations

Strathcona Park Lodge has fallen victim to teachers’ job action, says a director at the park.

Dozens of employees are suffering from lost wages as revenues are down significantly due to cancellations from more than 40 per cent of schools that were booked into the lodge.

“For more than 50 years the outdoor education centre has hosted school groups from across British Columbia,” said Jamie Boulding, co-executive director at Strathcona Park Lodge. “Thousands of school children gain a new appreciation for the outdoor world and learn valuable life skills every year. But this spring the lodge was quiet.”

Fields trips were called off after teachers across B.C. voted in April to withdraw from extracurricular activities in protest of Bill 22 – government imposed legislation teachers say strips away their collective bargaining rights and allows for unmanageable class sizes.

Now businesses are finding themselves caught in the middle of the bitter contract dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government.

More than 70 per cent of Strathcona’s business during the spring comes from B.C. public schools whose students learn valuable wilderness survival skills while at the lodge.

But with teachers pulling out of voluntary activities, students are losing out on that opportunity.

“This year half had to cancel, forcing the lodge into a tough financial situation,” Boulding said. “The other 50 per cent were able to come thanks to parent volunteers filling in for teachers. Those tend to be schools in more affluent neighbourhoods.

“In lower income areas, parents can’t afford to take a week off work. And yet it’s those schools that gain the most from time at Strathcona and other out of school activities.”

Elaine Thompson, acting president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association sympathizes with Boulding but at the same time there’s no alternative for teachers to send a message to the government, as Bill 22 prohibits teachers from striking.

“The withdrawal of participation in voluntary/extracurricular activities was the last resort for teachers in an attempt to get the government to negotiate with us, instead of imposing legislation that will be devastating for the public school system,” Thompson said. “It was a very painful decision for teachers to make, but the only legal avenue left to use under Bill 22.

“We feel very badly about the effects of this situation on such businesses as Strathcona Park Lodge.

“They have provided extremely valuable programs to school children for decades.”

Boulding said he’s not taking sides, he just wants the teachers’ union and the province to get to the bargaining table.

And he’s not alone.

A total of 13 outdoor education groups have signed an open letter to Education Minister George Abbott and BC Teachers’ Union President Susan Lambert, urging the two parties to come to a mediated resolution before the end of summer.

The groups include Horne Lake Caves, Camp Homewood, and the BC Camping Association.

“With the withdrawal of ECAs (Extra Curricular Activities), outdoor education opportunities have been taken away from thousands of BC public school students, and the withdrawal has had a harsh and immediate impact on our viability,” reads the letter. “In some cases losses or revenue in the hundreds of thousands of dollars have occurred and will occur if this ECA action goes on after the beginning of September.”

Thompson said the teachers’ union is more than willing to go to the bargaining table but the Liberals are not making an effort to negotiate.

“If there were any way we could get back to the bargaining table for some real free collective bargaining, the BCTF would jump at the opportunity, no matter when that was offered,” she said. “There have been no definite dates set by the BCTF to meet or make decisions regarding next school.”

Thompson expects a contract will be imposed on teachers at the end of August to avoid any teacher job action in the upcoming school year.

Teachers and the government began bargaining last spring.

Things turned sour in September 2011 when teachers pulled out of writing report cards and refrained from supervising students outside of the classroom.

Teachers went on a three-day strike in March before they were legislated back to work by Bill 22.