Teachers will be on strike for three consecutive days next week, starting Monday morning.
A total of 87 per cent (27,946 of 32,309 votes cast) of teachers voted Wednesday in favour of escalating from Phase 1 job action.
The B.C. Federation of Teachers announced early Thursday morning its members will walk off the job.
Neil Thompson, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said the vote turned out as he expected.
“I’m not surprised,” Thompson said. “Teachers are angry and teachers wanted to let the government know they’re bullying.”
He said a full withdrawal of services is not his first choice but there are little options left.
“I’m concerned it’s too much a disruption to the public,” Thompson said. “Basically we’ve thrown up our hands and don’t know what else to do. We’ve been trying to think outside the box.”
School District 72 is requesting that parents do not send their children to school on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week as there will be no instruction, appropriate supervision, or bus service, although school facilities will remain open.
“It is very unfortunate that the situation has escalated to this point,” said Tom Longridge, superintendent of school district 72. “The Board of Education and administration is extremely hopeful that normal school operations will be able to resume as soon as possible.”
The B.C. Teachers Federation has been in a battle with its employer, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the provincial government over a new teachers contract since March 2011. Teachers entered into Phase 1 of job action in September 2011 and since then have abstained from writing report cards, meeting with principals, and supervising students at lunch and recess.
Teachers took an escalation vote after the Labour Relations Board ruled Tuesday morning that teachers are permitted to walk off the job for three consecutive school days, and then once per week after that, without violating the essential services law.
Just hours later that same day, Education Minister George Abbott announced he had tabled legislation to end the contract dispute. The government has not said how long it will take for the legislation to pass but Thompson figures it could be by the end of next week. NDP leader Adrian Dix said his party will fight the bill in the legislature, calling for “real mediation.”
Thompson said many teachers he spoke with Wednesday morning were angered by the legislation and had been swayed in favour of striking.
“I was in schools (Wednesday) and teachers who were considering saying ‘no’ (to a strike) – (now) this legislation by the Liberal government has just put them over the top,” Thompson said.
The legislation, called Bill 22, proposes a cooling-off period which would extend until August 31 and essentially extends the current teachers’ contract. Teachers are prohibited from strike action during the cooling-off period and non-compliance could result in penalties per day of $475 for individual teachers, $2,500 for officials such as Thompson, and $1.3 million for the union.
The bill also appoints a mediator and includes changes to special-needs education funding, classroom sizes and teacher bargaining rights. Under the legislation, kindergarten classes cannot have more than 22 students while Grade 1 to 3 classes cannot exceed 24. Most Grade 4 to 12 classes can have up to 30 students, and in those that exceed the cap, teachers will receive additional compensation.
Abbott said while the legislation is in place, a government-appointed mediator will work with all three parties to negotiate a contract.
Elaine Thompson, vice-president of the association representing Campbell River teachers, said a government-appointed mediator will side with the province.
“It’s not going to be an independent mediator,” Elaine said. “The mediator will look at their (the government’s) language and make us agree and be complicit rather than have real mediation.”
Thompson said the government, which yesterday was advocating for anti-bullying day, is being hypocritical.
“I felt nauseous and angry when I saw (Premier) Christy Clark standing in front of the legislature saying how important stopping bullying is to her,” Thompson said. “You want to look at the definition of bullying – look at what’s being done to the teachers. It’s gut-wrenching she’s standing out there in front of the legislature in her pink shirt and talking about anti-bullying while at the same time destroying teachers’ incentives to feel good about their job.
“It’s hard to believe a government that’s supposed to represent students in this province would do something so horrific,” Thompson said.
The teachers federation, which has been without a contract since June 2011, is asking for a 15 per cent cost of living increase over three years, as well as improved classroom sizes and compositions. However, the government said it will not budge from its two-year net zero mandate, meaning no wage increases unless a savings can be found within the union’s contract.
Meanwhile, high school students across B.C. are planning their own walkout in support of teachers on Friday at 2 p.m. The walkout was initiated by Windermere high school in Vancouver and quickly spread via Facebook. As of Wednesday afternoon nearly 13,000 students had signed up to take part.