School District 85 students may get an impromptu three-day weekend as Vancouver Island North Teachers prepare for a one-day strike Monday, May 26.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation on Tuesday rejected a six-year contract offer proffered by Education Minister Peter Fassbender last week, and announced the start of one-day, rotating strikes at schools around the province beginning Monday and continuing through Thursday.
SD85 School Superintendent Scott Benwell confirmed the District has received notification of a planned walkout by VINTA membership on Monday.
“We expect all SD85 schools to be behind picket lines,” Benwell said. “We fully respect the bargaining process, and this is a natural progression. I would expect other unions to honour the picket line as well.”
All school districts in the province will be impacted by a one-day strike before teachers return Friday, May 30.
The strike action followed the union’s rejection of a six-year contract offer that would have included a 6.5 per cent wage increase and a $1,200 signing bonus for an agreement by the end of the school year.
But the carrot was served with a stick as the offer was announced with the threat of a five per cent or higher wage cut if the offer was declined.
BCTF president Jim Iker on Tuesday characterized the pay cut as, “so disrespectful, so unnecessary, and we’ll be dealing with it at the Labour Relations Board,” while adding the promised bonus does not make up for the 6.5 per cent wage offer.
“Last week, teachers were hopeful when they saw the government and BCPSEA put out an olive branch by backing off the unrealistic 10-year term,” said Iker. “But the next day, hope that this government would start negotiating in good faith faded when the employer announced a series of threats around wage rollbacks, lockouts, and attempts to divide teachers, parents, and students.”
Negotiations are schedule today and tomorrow between the BCTF and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association. But, barring a compromise, the one-day strikes will begin next week.
“We’re just getting the word on this,” Benwell said Tuesday morning, shortly after Iker’s announcement. “We will be getting notification out to families as soon as we can.”
Iker reiterated the union’s position that more pay, more teachers and a return to contract language guaranteeing class size and special needs support are needed to reach a settlement.
Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the province’s 60 school districts, informed the union last week that a five per cent pay cut will be put in place “soon” in response to the first phase of strike action.
The BCTF began work-to-rule action in April, refusing supervision outside classrooms and communication with school management. Rotating strikes were also authorized by the BCTF membership in a March vote, and beginning to shut down schools could result in an effort to cut teacher pay by 10 per cent.
Cameron said last week the union’s latest wage demand amounts to 15.9 per cent over four years, far beyond what other provincial public service unions have received. The BCTF maintains its wage proposal is 13.25 per cent over four years, including cost-of-living increases based on each year’s inflation rate.
For up-to-date information on strike impacts to SD85 schools, visit the District’s website at www.sd85.bc.ca and click the Strike Updates link at the top of the page.
With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press.