Teachers overwhelmingly approve strike action

Teachers in the Comox Valley and across the province have voted to take "teach-only" job action this September if there is no progress in provincial collective bargaining.
Ninety per cent of teachers across B.C. voted "yes" in a provincewide strike vote conducted June 24, 27 and 28.

Teachers in the Comox Valley and across the province have voted to take “teach-only” job action this September if there is no progress in provincial collective bargaining.

Ninety per cent of teachers across B.C. voted “yes” in a provincewide strike vote conducted June 24, 27 and 28.

In all, 28,128 teachers cast their ballots, with 25,282 voting “yes,” according to a news release from the Comox District Teachers’ Association (CDTA).

About 70 per cent of teachers in schools and teachers teaching on call participated in the vote, it noted.

Failing progress in bargaining, job action in the form of a “teach-only” campaign would begin Tuesday, Sept. 6 — the first day of the next school year.

CDTA president Steve Stanley is not releasing the local numbers but says CDTA members turned out in large numbers for the strike vote, and the percentage of members who voted  “yes” was even higher than the provincial number.

“We had a very strong mandate,” he said.

Stanley wants to reassure parents and students that classes will still be running, and teachers will still be teaching in September.

“They shouldn’t notice any differences, except teachers might have more time for students because they’re not doing the administrative stuff,” he said.

The “teach-only” action would see teachers in class, teaching students but not performing administrative duties such as entering information on computer databases, meeting with administrators and administering mandated tests.

Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF), said the strong “yes” vote shows that teachers are united and are prepared to take action to achieve their goals of improved teaching and learning conditions, fair improvements to salary and benefits, and restoration of local bargaining rights.

“Facing a concerted campaign by the government and the employer to turn back the clock on teachers’ rights and reverse hard-won provisions on due process, we have no choice but to take a stand for ourselves, our students and our profession,” Lambert stated in the release. “The employer is offering nothing and at the same time demanding we make many significant concessions. That’s not collective bargaining. It’s just bullying.”

Stanley echoed Lambert’s statement.

“This strike vote shows that teachers across the province are united and very determined to stand up for their rights and they want to see improvements to their collective agreement in this round of bargaining,” he said.

Class size and composition are part of that as well, noted Stanley.

Provincial collective bargaining between the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), representing the province’s 60 public school boards of education, and the BCTF, representing the province’s public school teachers, began March 1.

“We’re hoping this (strike vote) means the government will take us more seriously and negotiate in the summer and try to reach a collective agreement before school starts in the summer,” said Stanley.

Hugh Finlayson, CEO of the BCPSEA, is concerned by the teachers’ strike vote.

“I think in terms of what happens from here, the parties need to sit down and put real effort into a collective agreement,” he said. “Our concern is if you have a strike vote and have all the rhetoric around a strike vote, the next place to go, for me, would be continued tough negotiations because the parties should be committed to a collective agreement by Sept. 1.”

The BCTF has monetary proposals on the table that are estimated to total $2 billion — which covers everything from leaves of absence to discretionary leave and to changes in sick time and preparation time, explained Finlayson.

“You have to take a step back and say this is a time for reason,” he said. “If you have a strike vote … you’ve got to be realistic about what you are looking at. We are concerned and also looking at the summer and saying there is opportunity to continue negotiations with the goal of getting a collective agreement, which is our goal.”

“Now that we’ve had the rhetoric surrounding the strike vote, it’s time to get serious about getting a collective agreement and time to get serious about the $2 billion in proposals,” he added. “I think with focus and commitment, the parties should be able to reach an agreement.”

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com