By Tom Fletcher
The B.C. Teachers’ Association has served strike notice for Monday after teachers across the province endorsed the option in a province-wide vote.
The union was required to give two school days’ notice before being in a legal strike position, under a Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services that allow for up to three consecutive days of full strike action next week.
Education Minister George Abbott said Thursday it is up to teachers whether they refuse to work for one, two or three days next week. Schools will be open, and it’s up to parents if they want to send children to school, he said.
The LRB ruling prohibits picket lines, allowing unionized support staff to go to work. Administrators will supervise students, but normal instruction will not take place.
The B.C. government began debate Thursday on legislation that would extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months, while a mediator works with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in an effort to find common ground on class sizes, special needs support and other issues.
Nearly 28,000 BCTF members voted yes to the strike option out of the 32,209 who voted Tuesday and Wednesday, after the B.C. government tabled legislation to impose a “cooling-off period” the end of August and impose heavy fines on the union and its members for strikes during that time.
Nearly 9.000 teachers did not vote, and more than 10 per cent or 4,263 voted against strike action.
Abbott and Premier Christy Clark would not specify how long the government would wait before passing that legislation. Clark said she wants to give the union time to “climb down from the cliff” after seven months of working to rule, refusing to complete report cards and other non-essential duties.
NDP leader Adrian Dix said he will oppose Bill 22 in the legislature. He called for “real mediation” but refused to say if he would support a raise for teachers.
BCTF president Susan Lambert has dismissed the legislation and restrictions on mediation to work within the government’s two-year “net zero” wage mandate as “bullying tactics.” She said an extra $30 million fund for special needs support this year, on top of more than $800 million currently budgeted, is a “crumb” that won’t even cover inflation.
“The results of our province-wide vote are strong evidence of the unity and determination of BCTF members in rejecting this government’s provocative and damaging legislation,” Lambert said.