Teachers ready to take strike vote

Teachers in the Central Okanagan are expected to vote this weekend on whether to take job action come September if an employment agreement cannot be struck with the province.

The teachers’ current employment contract ends June 30 and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has indicated its members would start with low-level job action when classes resume for the 2011-12 school year, refusing to undertake certain administrative functions and attend meetings.

For now, their local spokesperson, Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association president Alice Rees, says the important thing the union wants parents to know is that they are fighting for teachers’ rights to negotiate the kinds and amount of support kids receive in the classroom.

“The commitment to the parents is that the students are still our first responsibility,” she said.

On the heels of a Supreme Court decision this spring which found the government’s move to remove negotiations over class size and composition from the teachers’ collective agreement in 2004 was unconstitutional, Rees said teachers’ primary concern is ensuring the school system is compensated for the loss of supports.

The people who have suffered the most are the students who need help and extra support, she said, noting “teachers are really angry” at the way funding claw-backs have affected kids.

The government, meanwhile, maintains funding is at an all-time high and that the Supreme Court found the processes in Bills 27 and 28 to be unconstitutional, not the concept of removing class size and composition issues from the list of issues which could be negotiated in the employment contract.

The government has indicated it will pursue an agenda to keep class size, class composition, non-enrolling staffing ratios, and hours of work in relation to school calendars out of the teachers’ collective agreement, according to a bulletin put out on the B.C. Public Employers’ Association web site, the body tasked with provincial-level bargaining for the teachers.

The teachers’ collective agreement is negotiated on both a local and provincial level with matters pertaining to money handled provincially and matters pertaining to local communication handled by individual school districts—although this too is currently a dickering point.

The vote to be held this weekend is governed by the Labour Relations Code and will see teachers vote on whether or not to use strike action in a closed ballot at local schools.

The move marks more of a first step than anything as the union would still need to provide 72-hour strike notice and has yet to reach a point where the threat would be levied given the early stage of the negotiations which began this spring.

“The vote now is to tell everyone we’re really serious,” said Rees, noting the teachers’ want what they contend they paid for in salary compromises—supports for students.



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