VANCOUVER — A vote today and tomorrow by British Columbia’s unionized teachers asking members to approve full-scale strike action threatens chaos for the last days of the public school year.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants its 40,000 members to support a strong strike mandate as a pressure tactic to get a new collective agreement.
But the vote comes at a time when the union’s strike account is so depleted it can’t pay each teacher their $50 a day strike pay and the B.C. government is asking the labour board to declare testing for the senior grades be made essential.
The teachers have been without a contract since June 2013. Wages and classroom conditions are the major points of contention.
Local union chapters were organizing the ballot, with the union planning to announce results Tuesday night.
A requirement of three days notice to the employer before launching a walkout means the earliest date all schools could shut is June 16.
“The higher the turnout and the higher the yes vote, the more pressure it puts on the government to bring resources to the table,” stated a BCTF memo sent to its members last week.
The memo said the economic benefits of a “good settlement” will have a positive long-term effect for members, in spite of salary losses due to job action. Even a one per cent increase for a new teacher will amount to $15,000 salary boost over a 30-year career, it stated.
For every day a teacher is on the picket lines, the government will save $12 million and another $4.5 million for support staff, according to the Education Ministry.
The union wants a wage hike in the range of 12 per cent over four years, while the government contends that spikes to more than 19 per cent when compounded and including benefits. The employer has offered 7.3 per cent over six years plus a $1,200 signing bonus if a deal is reached soon.
Both sides say they want a deal before the end of the school year.
Vancouver teacher Aeryn Williams said she supports her union.
“I feel like we should be playing hardball because the government isn’t putting students first,” said the Grades 2 and 3 teacher.
The union took limited job action starting April 23, stopping supervision outside the classroom and refusing to communicate in writing with administrators, prompting about a dozen school districts to cancel recess.
Teachers moved to a second stage on May 26, initiating rotating strikes that closed each school one day per week. A third week of similar strikes begins today, with districts shutting down between Tuesday and Friday.
The employer locked out teachers in conjunction with the rotating strikes. The B.C. Labour Relations Board subsequently ruled the employer was within its rights to chop teachers’ pay 10 per cent.
The employer has also asked the tribunal to designate the marking of exams for Grades 10 to 12 as essential, although there’s no word when a hearing might be held.
Negotiators are scheduled to carry on with bargaining today through Thursday.