Campbell River teachers could be on strike again this spring.
Local educators will join their provincial counterparts in a strike vote on Tuesday and Wednesday. Provincial results will be announced the evening of March 6.
Elaine Thompson, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said she wants to reassure parents that the strike vote does not necessarily mean classes will be cancelled.
“Once a strike vote is taken, the BCTF (BC Teachers’ Federation) has 90 days to activate it with some sort of job action,” Thompson said. “That job action, if needed, will occur in stages, but any initial action will not include immediate school closures or disruption for students, nor ask teachers to stop participating in extracurricular activities, nor affect report cards or communication with parents.”
Thompson said the purpose of the strike vote is to put pressure on the bargaining table as the BCTF tries to negotiate a new contract with the B.C. government via the BC Public Schools Employers’ Association.
Teachers have been without a contract since June 30, 2013 and have not made any headway in reaching a new deal.
“We are making no progress after over a year and more than 40 bargaining sessions,” Thompson said. “We want a negotiated deal at the table. That is our goal. We will work very hard to get that negotiated settlement, hopefully without any action.”
If action is taken, it will be the second time in two years.
Teachers went on strike for three days in March 2012, which was the culmination of job action that began in September of that same school year.
Teachers originally pulled their supervision duties during recess and lunch and refused to issue report cards; job action escalated to a strike months later.
Teachers were legislated back to work by the government’s Bill 22. The bill was controversial for teachers because it legislated for classroom sizes up to 30 students despite an earlier ruling by the BC Supreme Court that government’s stripping away of teachers’ bargaining rights for class size and composition was unconstitutional.
Now, two years later, teachers are finding themselves in much the same situation.
Thompson said the government continues to underpay teachers.
“Even though most other public sector workers received 3.5 per cent to four per cent over the last two years, the government has a different agenda for teachers,” Thompson said. “Teachers have been offered 0.5 this year – not retroactive to June 30, 2013 – and zero for 2014/15. That means basically up to two more years of zeros, which follows two previous years of zero per cent.”
Thompson said teachers continue to lag behind other provinces when it comes to teachers’ salaries and it makes it increasingly more difficult to recruit the best educators.
“There is no incentive whatsoever here for teachers,” Thompson said. “Teachers have taken zeros, and continue to fall behind teachers across Canada, even though we live in the province with the highest cost of living. It is already affecting our ability to retain teachers and attract new ones. Young graduate teachers are flocking to other provinces.”
Thompson said B.C. is also $1,000 per student below the national average and has the worst student-educator ratio in Canada.
She said the B.C. government has saved more than $3 billion in the last 12 years by stripping teachers’ contracts and Thompson would like to see those funds returned.
“It is time to put some of that money back into public education.”