B.C. will experience a second week of rotating teacher’s strikes, with School District 69 schools closed Thursday, June 5.
As teachers continue the partial strike and the province continues a partial lockout in response, they continue to bargain, but some students are starting to worry about the impact.
“I feel teachers are fighting for wages more than our rights,” said Grade 10 Kwalikum Secondary student Robert Filmer. He said he felt 70 per cent of students are up on the issues and are roughly 50/50 split supporting one side or the other. Though speaking for himself, he said he feels he represents a good sample of his friends and the opinion he hears in the halls.
“Teachers are making more than enough to get through and I think they’re being greedy and selfish,” he said, adding that students are being hurt by the lack of extra help, which will hurt the weaker students most.
With an 89 per cent strike vote in March, teachers began stage one (work to rule) job action last month and moved to stage two, with a single-day rotating strike last week.
The government responded with a 10 per cent pay cut and partial lockout, asking teachers not to work more than 45 minutes before and after school, or during breaks.
“We hear the teachers are fighting for smaller classes, and we do support that, but a lot of classes are only 15 kids, that’s plenty small,” Filmer said, adding he and many of his friends don’t feel teachers really have the student’s best interests in mind. Filmer said he understood he might receive negative feedback after his comments appear in the newspaper, and he also said he was speaking to The NEWS with his parents’ knowledge and consent.
Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Debbie Morran said they are feeling supported. “We got a lot of support from parents stopping and from retired teachers and lots of honks,” she said of their first day on the picket lines.
She confirms that students are being impacted, with at least one field trip being cancelled that she knew of. “If we’re locked out, how are we supposed to take students on camping trips?” she said, pointing to the government.
She said there is still a lot of confusion about what the teachers can and can’t do, which is currently before the Labour Relations Board for clarification.
She added that the extra circular activities are already done on a volunteer basis, which they don’t want to continue doing while they feel they are being treated unfairly by their employer.
District superintendent Rollie Koop said that it is the teachers’ decision to not provide that extra help. “In our mind the lockout doesn’t preclude teachers from doing extracurricular activities like sports and grad,” he said, pointing to an exemption for work teachers wouldn’t be paid for anyway.
He said the teachers’ complaint that they might not be covered by insurance is untrue, that they have written confirmation that they are always covered for activities directly related to school.
Both Koop and Morran said specific activities, like trips and concerts, depend on the individual teachers and couldn’t say what will or won’t go ahead.
While negotiations are ongoing, Koop didn’t sound overly optimistic: “We’re still quite far from a zone of settlement, there’s a dramatic difference between what teachers are requesting and what the government’s prepared to offer.” He said they have to stay within the range of what other sectors have received or there could be implications for other contracts and negotiations.
“Teachers know that bargaining is about compromise, but we cannot be the only ones expected to move,” said B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker in a news release last week. “Collective bargaining is about compromise and moving forwards, not backwards.”
Meanwhile, Filmer, the Grade 10 student, said not knowing what impact there might be on the exam, and grad season, is hardest on students. There has been talk in other districts of student walkouts parallel to the teacher walkouts, but nothing formal has been announced locally.
Schools in School District 69 (Qualicum) will be closed this Thursday, June 5 and re-open Friday on their normal schedules.