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Teachers participate in strike vote

Negotiations continue while ballot results will be announced at end of June

Powell River teachers are joining their colleagues across British Columbia in a province-wide strike vote this week. The vote, if successful, will provide a mandate for a “teach only” job action to begin September 6, 2011, at the start of the new school year.

Voting will be complete by June 28 and results are expected no later than June 30, the last day of school.

Contract talks began March 1 at both local and provincial bargaining tables. However, no progress has been made at either level, leaving teachers frustrated, said Cathy Fisher, president of Powell River and District Teachers’ Association. “While teachers are seeking improvements to ensure they keep up with Canadian standards, the government has offered only concessions and contract stripping,” she said. “Locally, our board’s hands are tied because they do not have an envelope of money within which they can bargain.”

The “teach only” action would see teachers in class, teaching students, but not performing other administrative duties such as entering information on computer databases, meeting with administrators and administering mandated tests. Teachers will continue to teach, assess students and communicate with parents.

Teachers are seeking improvements to class size, class composition, preparation time and various local issues. In addition, teachers are seeking a fair wage increase, to ensure BC teacher salaries are in line with Alberta, Ontario and western Canada.

In September, BC teachers will rank eighth in Canada, with an average BC teacher with 10 year’s experience earning over $21,000 less than a teacher in Alberta, said Fisher. “While Alberta teachers will receive a 4.4 per cent increase and Ontario teachers a three per cent increase, this fall BC teachers are scheduled to receive a zero per cent wage settlement,” she said. “Preparation time for BC teachers, at 90 minutes per week for elementary teachers, is the lowest in Canada.”

Powell River teachers have been particularly impacted by the increased workload resulting from larger classes and greater numbers of students with special needs, Fisher also said. “In the absence of adequate supports and specialty teachers, classroom teachers have been under increasing pressure to provide these services themselves, leading to crushing workload issues,” she said. “The result has been high stress and burnout levels and many teachers taking sick leave to cope with the job.”

Fisher said teachers want to send a strong message to government that they are serious about the need to restore services for students. “Families in our community are counting on us to advocate for kids. Our goals at the local bargaining table include smaller class sizes, more support for students with special needs and to be able to work together with the board in finding local solutions to local issues.”

BC Education Minister George Abbott said in an email to the Peak that negotiations between the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association [BCPSEA] and the BC Teachers’ Federation [BCTF] are still underway. “These are difficult negotiations as we knew they would be,” he said. “Teachers are looking for a wage increase at a time when most public sector employees have settled under our government’s net zero mandate. That is obviously a challenge. However, I am hopeful that the two parties will continue to work hard to reach a negotiated resolution.”

Jay Yule, superintendent of schools for School District 47, said the major bargaining issues have been delegated to provincial organizations. “It is the board’s hope that the BCTF and BCPSEA can come to a settlement without disruption to students.”