Sea to Sky teachers' representative 'hopeful' full strike can be avoided 

'Low-level' job action started Wednesday, will have 'minimal effect' on students: Walker

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE - Job action begins Children play during recess at Spring Creek Community School in Whistler. Teacher job action started Wednesday, April 23.
  • Photo BY Clare Ogilvie
  • Job action begins Children play during recess at Spring Creek Community School in Whistler. Teacher job action started Wednesday, April 23.

There are no picket lines at Whistler schools, but teachers have started "low-level" job action across British Columbia as the educators' union and government continue to negotiate a new contract.

Whistler Secondary School Parent Advisory Council chair Stephanie Reesor said she's not overly concerned with the low-level job action that started this week, although she hopes a full strike can be avoided with the end of the academic year approaching.

"If it's not dealt with properly, there is always that potential (for a full strike), but I would rather not see that happen because I think that will affect a lot of the end-of-year activities, like prom and grad," she said.

Myrtle Philip parent Cynthia Higgins said she doesn't want to see a strike implemented either, although she understands many of the frustrations B.C.'s teachers are feeling.

"It's a tricky situation for everybody because the parents don't want to see the teachers go on strike because then they're (concerned) about what their children could be missing out on... yet you can't let the teachers continue to keep working harder, and doing more, without being fairly compensated for that," she said.

"The government, on the flipside of that, doesn't want to raise taxes because then the people are angry."

The head of the Sea to Sky Teachers' Association is hopeful a full strike can be avoided.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF)-initiated job action will have "minimal effect" on students and will be administrative in nature, said Local 48 president Carl Walker, citing teachers' major concerns over "large class sizes, complex classes that don't have adequate supports, and protections for specialist positions."

Through Stage 1 of the job action, teachers will not supervise students outside of regular class time unless administrators are unable to do so, and will not attend any meetings or engage in written, printed or electronic communication with school administration. Teachers will not be on campus prior to one hour before the school day begins, or an hour after the end of instructional time other than for pre-arranged extracurricular or voluntary activities.

"At this point, it's a relatively soft action, and we don't think that parents need to be worried," said SD48 superintendent Lisa McCullough.

"All of the normal things; parent-teacher conferences, provincial exams, at this point we're being told, they're all a go."

Six school districts have plans to cancel recess, although McCullough said the Sea to Sky would not be affected in the short term.

"That's definitely a consideration in the future if things were to change, but under the current understanding we have we will not be eliminating recess," she said, adding that some Squamish elementary school students may see their lunch hours rescheduled to accommodate administrators' availability.

In a release that went home to all parents Tuesday, April 22, McCullough added: "...regular classroom instruction for all students will continue. As well, all students will be supervised but districts will be making adjustments to scheduling and deployment of staff, and further adjustments to student groupings for maximum student safety outside of scheduled instructional time.

"Your school principal may have specific requests for you, as parents, to assist with planning for student safety that are unique to your school site. Our senior management team will also be available to assist at any school site in the event of any emergent issues."

BCTF president Jim Iker, in a release, accused Premier Christy Clark and her government of "once again trying to provoke B.C. teachers and shut down B.C. schools," and said a job action "is always a last resort because teachers care deeply about our schools and our students.

"That is why teachers are asking for smaller classes, more one-on-one time for our students, extra help for those who need it, and more specialist teachers to enhance every student's educational experience."

Last month, 89 per cent of voting teachers supported a job action following an extended period of negotiations. Teachers are asking for a three-per-cent wage hike and cost-of-living increases in each year of the proposed three-year contract, which works out to approximately a 13-per-cent raise over that period.

Education minister Peter Fassbender said in a release on Thursday, April 17, that the teachers' union's alleged unwillingness to budge on this opening position has held back recent negotiations.

A major obstacle at the bargaining table, according to Walker, has been Victoria's insistence on drafting a 10-year deal without providing the resources to fund such an agreement. The government has proposed a 6.5-per-cent wage increase spread out until May 2019, with indexing following that. The approximate total cost of such a deal after five years would be $190 million, or 3.5 per cent of B.C.'s $5.4-billion budget for K-12.

"It's a little disappointing but not at all surprising," Fassbender said in the release. "Over the past few weeks, it appears the BCTF has been more focused on implementing its strike plan than bargaining at the table."

Walker countered that claim, saying the union is open to bargaining on any point.

"Our members are on board with this action, and in fact our members have been at the bargaining table long before (Fassbender) was minister," he said. "We started bargaining last March over a year ago and we've made every effort at the bargaining table to reach a settlement."

If a deal is not reached, Walker said the next step would be rotating teacher strikes across the province, although no date has been set to initiate such an action.

"We will do what we can to avoid any kind of strike action or any kind of withdrawal of services, but it just depends on how things are going at the bargaining table," he added.

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