Kill Bill 22.
That was the rallying cry of 275 Campbell River teachers during a protest Wednesday afternoon.
Teachers marched around downtown cfor about 15 minutes, starting at Robert Ostler Park and finishing up at Spirit Square where they crowded in to listen to speeches from the union executive.
“Kill Bill 22!” chanted Jerry Horton, local representative of the Campbell River and District Teachers’ Association. “The message is getting through. We are making a difference – don’t get discouraged.”
From Spirit Square, the group trudged along Shoppers Row to Discovery Pier where teachers stood.
Neil Thompson, the president of the teachers association, said he was amazed by the turnout.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. This is what we needed,” Thompson said. “It was hard for teachers to be visible when they were isolated at their schools. It’s good to bring everyone together.”
Since walking off the job Monday, teachers worked “stick-it” lines in front of local schools, carrying signs and handing out informational leaflets to the public. They were back at work on Thursday.
Teachers are fighting Bill 22, legislation the provincial government is expected to pass sometime next week.
The bill will force teachers back to work, extends the current contract, and imposes a cooling off period until August 31. During that time, teachers are not allowed to strike and the government will impose a mediator to work through contract negotiations between the B.C. Teachers Federation, the provincial government, and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.
The legislation also includes changes to class sizes and compositions, teacher bargaining rights, and special-needs funding.
Education Minister George Abbott, who said the teachers’ three-day strike has saved the government $11 million a day, invited Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, to speak with him about teachers’ concerns over Bill 22 on Wednesday.
Adrian Dix, leader of the NDP and Official Opposition, said his party will fight the legislation.
North Island NDP MLA Claire Trevena said the bill allows an indefinite number of special needs students in one classroom without an adequate number of supports.
“Bill 22 is a heavy handed piece of legislation,” Trevena said. “It will result in increasing class size, weakens protection for special needs students, and undermines free collective bargaining. What concerns me is that it is yet another attempt by the BC Liberals to play politics with the classroom.”
Thompson said the strike is about defending teachers’ democratic rights and protecting the free collective bargaining process.
“I know students, teachers and parents would rather (the teachers) be in their classrooms doing what we love to do but we’ve all had to make sacrifices,” Thompson told the crowd gathered at Spirit Square. “Sacrifices to defend our democratic rights, to defend the parents and children of Campbell River and B.C. That’s why we’re here.”
On Tuesday, nearly 10,000 teachers and other union members, including Canadian Union of Public Employees and the B.C. Government Employees Union, descended on the Legislature in Victoria for a rally. Thompson said 40 Campbell River teachers joined that rally.
Jim Hesketh, of the teachers’ association, said more than 400 teachers and CUPE members took part in the walk which began at Carihi and went along Dogwood Street to Phoenix School and back.