Teachers in Parksville Qualicum Beach and provincewide to conduct strike vote next week

On March 4-6, B.C. teachers will vote on a strike mandate.

"This decision was not taken lightly" said Mount Arrowsmith Teachers' Association President Debbie Morran. "We have been trying to achieve a negotiated settlement for over a year."

According to B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker in a news conference Tuesday, "unreasonable proposals" from the province's negotiating team include wage increases lower than what other public sector unions have received, and a continued refusal to put class size and special needs support limits back into the contract.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said wage negotiations “have to start somewhere” and after a year of bargaining, the BCTF has yet to present a wage demand. He declined to provide specifics of the government offer, but said classroom conditions are on the negotiating table.

Morran said that while other public sector unions have recently secured salary increases of four per cent over two years, the government offered teachers half a per cent in the first year and zero in the second.

“Our objectives have always been clear,” Morran said. “We want better supports for our students and we want a fair deal for teachers.”

She said the move might be surprising because “both parties had agreed not to bargain in the media, not to bargain publicly up until this point. The tipping point was the recent proposals that have been tabled.”

She said that despite a recent supreme court decision directing the province to restore teacher’s bargaining rights, “the recent proposal regarding all the class size, class composition and special staffing ratios, so we’re right back to square one regardless of any Supreme Court decision.”

“Clearly we’re at the table with class size and composition,” Fassbender said. “Our negotiators presented a package of proposals. We are still waiting to see the full proposal, including the wages, from the BCTF.”

Iker said any strike action would be phased in, and would not immediately include forcing teachers to stop extra-curricular volunteer work, withholding report cards or walking off the job.

Peter Cameron, appointed last year as chief negotiator for B.C.’s 60 school boards, said Tuesday he is surprised the union is going to a strike vote without tabling its complete position. There have been hints at the bargaining table that the BCTF has an “extreme” wage demand, he said.

Cameron said the BCTF has characterized the public school system as being in “free fall,” when in fact completion rates have improved over the 12 years when class size and support have been in dispute.

“The graduation rate for special needs kids, for aboriginal kids, has gone up dramatically since 2001,” Cameron said.

“These are not the offers of a government interested in labour peace,” Morran said, “nor are they the offers of a labour minister interested in negotiating.”

— With files from Tom Fletcher/Black Press

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