Central Okanagan teachers filing votes on strike

A three-day strike vote intended to give the BC Teachers' Federation a mandate from members to add threat of job action to negotiations with the province commences Tuesday.

Teachers will vote at their individual schools and results will be announced provincewide on Thursday, at 9:30 p.m., by BCTF president Jim Iker.

Iker has already stated the vote is simply to establish a will to strike among union members, not to implement job action, and therefore should have little affect on parents.

"It's pretty clear what we're up to here and we support our president," said Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers' Association, the local wing of the BCTF.

Bauhart took over from Alice Rees, who led COTA for 13 of the past 20 years, and said the union is not releasing any local voting totals.

Negotiations on a ten-year contract began last year after a brief reprieve from the decade-long contract battle the Liberal government and BCTF have waged in the media and courts.

Both sides are now awaiting an appeal date for the latest court decision, which saw the B.C. Supreme Court rule then Minister of Education Christy Clark's removal of class-size limits and composition rules from the teachers' contract was unconstitutional.

In 2002, the province eliminated several clauses from the teachers' contract placing limits on the number of students allowed in a class and mixing students with a wide variety of special needs into the mainstream population.

The current Education Minister, Peter Fassbender, has stated the Supreme Court ruling would cost as much as $1 billion should the province be forced to restore the restrictions.

The teachers are also aiming for pay increases, despite the provincial cooperative gains mandate, which aims to hold the line on budgets by permitting raises for public sector employees only from savings carved out by employers, and only when performance targets are met.

Union employees at the University of Victoria and UBC won wage increases, for example, from operation efficiencies administrators claimed were tough to find, and the BC Nurses' Union earned a 3.5 per cent increase by extending nurses' hours per week.

A statement from the teachers' union points out the money, nevertheless, does go to the employees.

"Despite most other public sector workers receiving increases in the range of 3.5 to four per cent over two years as part of the co-operative gains mandate, the government has directed BCPSEA to pursue a totally different agenda with teachers," Iker said in a press release issued last Tuesday. "Trying to force wage freezes on teachers for another two years is not reasonable or fair, given what the government negotiated with other workers in the public sector."


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