Local teachers could go on strike as early as Monday morning.
Teachers will vote this afternoon to escalate from Phase 1 job action, with results expected this evening.
Neil Thompson, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said he would not be surprised to see teachers go on strike early next week.
“I anticipate, with a positive vote, teachers will be on strike by Monday,” Thompson said.
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 that time have abstained from writing report cards, meeting with principals, and supervising students at lunch and recess.
Teachers decided on 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 act. Teachers must give two school days notice before any strike action.
Just hours later, Education Minister George Abbott announced he had tabled legislation to end the contract dispute. That gives the teachers a small window to go on strike before the legislation is passed, which is expected to be within one to two weeks.
Thompson said many teachers he spoke with Wednesday morning were frustrated by the legislation and have been swayed in favour of striking.
“I was in schools today 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 proposes a cooling-off period which would extend until August 31 and essentially extends the original teachers’ contract.
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 Grades 1 to 3 classes cannot exceed 24. Most Grades 4 to 12 classes can have up to 30 students, and in those that exceed the cap, teachers will receive additional compensation.
Teachers are also 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.
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 there is no democracy in having a government-appointed mediator.
“It’s not going to be an independent mediator,” Elaine said. “The mediator will look at their (the province’s) language and make us agree and be complicit rather than have real mediation.”
Thompson said the government, which is today advocating for anti-bullying day, is being hypocritical.
“I felt nauseous and very 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. They stripped down their own legislation in Bill 33 which had limits on class size and composition. They stripped it out of the School Act. 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.
Meanwhile, high school students from across B.C. are planning their own walk out in support of teachers on Friday at 2 p.m. The plan was initiated by Windermere high school in Vancouver and quickly spread through Facebook. As of Wednesday morning nearly 12,000 students had signed up to take part.