B.C. teachers seek arbitration

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Photo: flickr/Christopher Seesums

Teachers in B.C. will vote September 10 on support for a union proposal to send the current strike to arbitration and immediately open classrooms for the new school year as soon as government says yes.

On Friday the BCTF called for the B.C. government to agree to arbitration as a way of getting past the impasse. The education minister almost immediately rejected the proposal.

The BCTF will still conduct a vote of all its members on whether they support the call for arbitration and a return to work. That way, if the government finally gives in to pressure to arbitrate, school can start almost immediately.

The BCTF's main condition is for government to agree to let the court process finally determine class size and class composition issues. This arises because the B.C. Supreme Court has twice ruled that B.C. teachers' Charter of Rights were violated when, in 2002, the government brought in legislation that eliminated provisions from the teacher collective agreement. The decision has not come into effect because the government is appealing the judgement.

The government is trying to force the BCTF to give up the rights that were defined by the courts by including a clause that would eliminate the effect of the court decisions. BCTF president Jim Iker pointed to this as a key block to reaching an agreement.

This follows a pattern of trying to break the BCTF rather than negotiating. The government's own negotiator has acknowledged that he has made no moves toward an agreement throughout the 18 months of negotiation. The BCTF, in contrast, has made several compromises to find a settlement.  

The government is counting on financial pressure to undermine teachers. Since rotating strikes started in May, teachers have lost a full month of salaries and received only $200 in strike pay.

Teacher unions in Ontario provided $1.5 million to support B.C. teachers. Funds for a hardship fund have come from other donations, including some from teachers donating their strike pay for others who need it more.

A group of parents have started a website called FamiliesFundingTeachers.ca as a crowd-funding approach to supporting teachers. They are particularly encouraging parents being promised by government that they will receive $40 for each child under 13 for every day of the strike. In just a few days, more than $20,000 had been raised for the hardship fund.

Teachers and the others are putting pressure on the BC Liberal members of the Legislature with demonstrations at their offices. Most of the MLAs have shut out the public and closed their offices rather than deal with the protests.

A BC Federation of Labour rally in downtown Vancouver on Friday drew several thousand teachers, families and friends -- enough to block the road in front of the provincial government offices.

The BCTF has a Livestream channel which carries briefings for members and the media and has attracted as many as 30,000 viewers.

Larry Kuehn is the B.C. Teachers' Federation's Director of Research and Technology.

Photo: flickr/Christopher Seesums

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