B.C.’s 41,000 teachers went back to their classrooms yesterday after a three-day strike but parents and students will have to wait another week before they find out what the teachers next move will be.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has postponed a job action vote until next weekend to coincide with their annual general meeting which goes March 17 to 20 in Vancouver.
The questions teachers will be asked to vote on haven’t been announced, but they have a wide range of options open to them, ranging from a full-scale strike to work-to-rule job action.
Nancy Knickerbocker of the BCTF said the vote was postponed to match the pace of the government’s efforts to pass its back-to-work legislation.
The provincial legislature is still debating Bill 22, which will suspend all teachers’ job actions, impose a cooling-off period and set stiff fines for any illegal strike.
The Labour Relations Board has ruled teachers can legally strike one day a week until the back-to-work legislation is passed, but they must give 48-hour notice.
Any other strike action would result in huge fines for both teachers and BCTF leaders.
On Wednesday thousands of supporters rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery where BCTF president Susan Lambert didn’t mince words about the legislation being debated at B.C. legislature.
“When they push this legislation through, they need to know that we have just begun,” Lambert said. “We will not be compliant. They need to know that we will resist.”
The bill, which changes how class size and composition are negotiated and instates a mediator, would also restrict teachers from striking and fine those who do.
Education Minister George Abbott has said he was willing to sit down and discuss the bill with Lambert but said she hadn’t reached out to him.
Despite the importance of the issues, government house leader Rich Coleman has said the government has no plans to ram the legislation through and has not scheduled any evening or weekend sittings.
While teachers now return to teach-only job action, it’s unclear whether the BCTF will continue striking one day per week, as permitted by a labour relations board ruling, and risk hefty fines proposed by Bill 22.
“We’re consulting with members and they’ll tell us what to do,” Lambert said, adding the union is hosting their annual general meeting later this month.
Wednesday’s rally was the culmination of a three-day strike that sparked a political storm and a war of words between the union and the province. Throughout the week, B.C. teachers organized rallies and demonstrations outside schools to protest Abbott’s legislation, also known as the Education Improvement Act.
The teachers have been without a contract since June and began job action in September, primarily by refusing to fill out report cards. Key issues in the contract dispute include wage increases, class sizes and support for special needs students.
The government is standing firm on a net-zero contract similar to deals struck with other public sector unions in the province.
The government halted contract negotiations between the B.C. School Employers Association and the B.C.T.F. after a year of bargaining yielded virtually no progress on the major issues.