Teachers initiate rotating strike action

Central Okanagan schools will be forced to close next Tuesday.

Kathy Michaels

Staff Reporter

Schools across the Central Okanagan will be closed next Tuesday, as the dispute between teachers and the province escalates.

BC Teachers Federation president Jim Iker announced earlier in the week that teachers were implementing a rotating strike across the province as a continuing effort to get their contract demands met.

The strike that affects 21,000 area students is expected to end next Friday, but the BCTF has indicated they’d be willing to push on in their efforts if the two parties do not make progress in the bargaining sessions.

It’s a move one mother at Watson Road Elementary school said she was OK with, should it be a one-off, but teachers won’t win her over with a drawn out strike.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom, so it doesn’t make that big of a difference to me, if it’s one day,” said Heather Makordoff. “Last time, though, it was nearly two-and-a-half weeks, and that was too much.”

As for whether she’s sided with the province or the teachers in their long-time fight, she wasn’t committed to either, but noted she didn’t want teachers to deal with out of control class sizes—a popular talking point in the debate.

Other parents queued up to pick up their little ones were a little less pleased with the news.

“I don’t know all the details, but I’m a federal government employee and we were once promised a seven per cent wage increase over three years,” said one mother, who asked not to be named.

“That was pulled back and hasn’t been reinstated. Now teachers are asking for 13 per cent.

“And they can strike? To each his own, I don’t know all the conditions, but we can’t strike.”

Another woman waiting for her child identified herself only as a self-employed mother, and noted that she’s been seriously thinking about other options.

“I know parents need to keep in mind that school is not a daycare, but this is certainly inconvenient,” she said.

She also had questions about the validity of the union, noting that it was a divisive organization seemingly out of step with the times.

“This isn’t even a time where job security exists, anymore,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, the whole thing has made her seriously consider enrolling her children in private school.

Private schools, she said, would offer consistency as they’re shielded from the regular upheaval between the province and the teachers union.

The relationship between teachers and the government has been tenuous since 2002, when then premier Gordon Campbell legislated an end to the dispute without resolving the concerns the BCTF had tabled during negotiations.

Among those hot-button issues that have continued to cause a divide since that time is wage increases.

According to recent government calculations, the BCTF is asking for a 13 per cent increase by 2016, while provincial negotiators offered 2.75 per cent.

The other familiar issues of class size and composition have also made a reappearance.

“B.C. teachers began low-level job action to put pressure on government and BCPSEA to bring fair offers to the table. Unfortunately, the employer has steadfastly refused to table any improvements to class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers,” said Iker.

“Teachers have twice won the right to negotiate our working conditions, which are also students’ learning conditions, in B.C. Supreme Court. We expect government to bring new funding to the table to make those improvements happen.”

Meantime, the province isn’t passively accepting the strike. It says it will likely cut wages by 10 per cent once teachers begin rotating strikes.

All in all, the strife is something everyone wants to see resolved, said school board chairperson Moyra Baxter.

“The board of education just hopes they will come to an agreement in a speedy fashion, because the uncertainty is difficult for everyone,” she said.

“We were hoping that by the end of the school year everything would be settled and schools would be operating normally.”

The school board has recently had to make some tough decisions with their budgets, following a $4 million shortfall.

Baxter said whatever agreement is reached will be funded by the province, and won’t impact the school district’s upcoming budgets.