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Teachers have plan for job action

Almost 100 per cent of teachers in the Howe Sound district turned out for the first province-wide strike vote in 85 years.

Almost 100 per cent of teachers in the Howe Sound district turned out for the first province-wide strike vote in 85 years.

"I believe that the majority understand that a strong strike vote is required," said Marjorie Reimer, president of the How Sound Teachers’ Association which represents 256 teachers.

While hesitant to speculate what the turn out might be across the province Reimer would say that all teachers are united in their belief that a significant salary increase is needed.

"We have not had a significant increase for nine years," she said.

"We are looking to attract new teachers and... (win) other things that are critical in these days to teach students."

Despite the strike vote, the British Columbia Teachers Federation is not yet planning a full-blown strike.

It has made available a four-page guide to job action teachers can take in the meantime.

The first phase of action includes banning teachers from staff meetings, school based meeting with administrative staff, before or after-school supervision, noon hour supervision, and recess supervision.

Teachers are also instructed not to complete school report cards, collect money from students or distribute newsletters, memos or announcements.

If the BCTF believes Phase I is not having an effect it may decide to move to Phase II which includes an escalating program of partial, rotating, and/or full withdrawal of service, and the cessation of extra-curricular activities.

"We are trying our very best to not impact the kids but to impact the employer and show then that we really strongly feel that we need a better settlement," said Reimer.

The results of the vote won’t be known until next week.

The unions called for the strike vote saying the B.C. Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) is trying to strip the contract. The association claims it is seeking changes because the last contract was imposed on them by an NDP government without their support.

No job action would begin until the union is armed with a strike mandate and has issued a 72-hour strike notice.

In the meantime the BCPSEA has applied to the Labour Relations Board for a ruling on whether there is a dispute and if there is one does it pose a threat to the delivery of programs.

If the LRB says there is a threat to service then a hearing will be held to determine which school services would be declared essential.

Although education is now an essential service by law, teachers still have the right to strike. What job action they take would be outlined in the LRB ruling.

One of the big issues is the union’s demand for a 34 per cent pay hike over three years.

The employer has offered 7.6 per cent over three years, but the union insists the offer actually amounts to only 2.3 per cent.

Ken Denike, BCPSEA chairman said the confusion arises out the association’s move to standardize salaries.

"Because we are standardizing there will be a difference," said Denike.

"Some districts start teachers relatively high while others start teachers relatively low so we would be boosting the lower rate but probably wouldn’t reach the higher paid ones."

Other issues include:

• Class Size — The union wants an expansion of province-wide limits imposed on primary grades in 1998. It also wants province-wide caps extended upward to Grade 12. The employer says class-size caps caused an organizational nightmare and that principals should decide how many students are in each classroom.

• Early retirement — The union says teachers aged 55 and older should be given incentives to leave. The employer says that is an expensive option which would also exacerbate staffing shortages.

• Special needs — The union says special needs students should be integrated into regular classrooms only when there is the staff to support it. The employer wants greater flexibility in placing these students with a team approach involving teachers administrators and parents.

• Supervision — The union wants a 45-minute lunch break during noon hour while the employer is offering a 30 minutes duty-free lunch. Not all teachers would be able to have lunch at the same time and teachers should be available to supervise before, during or after school.

Negotiations are on-going and Denike believes it will be months before disruptions are felt at the school level.

Kris Shoup, chair of Whistler’s Myrtle Philip Parents Advisory Committee, said parents aren’t talking much about the strike vote yet.

"We will deal with it when it comes," she said.

Whistler Secondary School’s PAC spokesperson Patricia Keene said: "If this is what it takes what are we to do?

"Teaching is a low prestige job and it needs to be a respected profession and I think that the union and the government are butting heads and no one is winning."