Teachers begin job action 

Local teachers have begun limited job action after their union served strike notice earlier this week.

And while there will be some impact on students the president of the Howe Sound Teachers’ Association, Marjorie Reimer, said everyone hopes to keep it to a minimum.

"We certainly have every desire not to impact students and parents but inevitably there will be some impact," she said.

"We will not be doing the extra bureaucratic things such as all the meetings and all the paperwork.

"Our focus will be on our instructional duties."

Denise Salmon, chair of the district Parent Advisory Council, said the "unstrike" would be discussed at the PAC’s regular meeting Wednesday night.

"Right now, from a district point of view, we are really not in a position to comment," she said.

"My main concern is the children’s education," said Salmon.

"That is my own personal concern. The rest of it is between the teachers and the Ministry of Education as far as I’m concerned. I just do not want my child or any other child in B.C.’s education system compromised in any way, shape or form."

The teacher’s job action has been divided by the union into two phases.

In the first phase, underway now, teachers will refuse to:

• Attend staff or district meetings;

• Meet parents outside of school teaching hours (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.);

• Meet parents during school hours unless a substitute is provided to cover class time;

• Prepare district report cards;

• Participate in any school accreditation activity;

• Collect money from students;

• Supervise lunch in elementary schools;

• Order supplies or do inventory or organize textbooks.

Maureen Richmond, chair of Whistler secondary’s PAC, said timing may help out local students as they have just finished their first quarter so most parents have already had parent-teacher meetings and an interim report card.

The local PAC has not had a chance to meet to discuss it yet, said Richmond.

"Personally I just hope that (Phase) I is as far as it gets and it gets resolved sooner rather than later," she said.

Richmond is not alone in her hope.

Said Reimer of the Teachers Association: "We honestly hope Phase I will succeed in bringing us a collective agreement."

Teachers want more class size limits, additional specialized teachers in every school, a guarantee of services for special-needs children, early retirement incentives and a significant pay hike.

"We have been bargaining forever," said Reimer. "There has been next to no progress and we really need to be able to put some pressure on the employer to take our concerns seriously.

"We feel very strongly that we have to stand up.

"Teachers do not want to go on strike; we want to achieve a collective agreement, but neither can we abrogate our responsibility for children.

"We are going into strike action as a last resort."

Bargaining continued this week but both sides say they have made little progress.

"Quite frankly what is happening in the negotiating room has more to do with the difficulty in (the union’s) bargaining team to actually make any decisions," said Ken Denike, president of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

"The difficulty we are having is that the proposals they have made and where they stand is still the same place as where they initially came in.

"We are both under pressure."

And the pressure is mounting with the announcement that Premiere Gordon Campbell is prepared to recall the legislature to deal with the dispute if it’s felt that the union’s job action is interfering with student’s education.

Denike said the teachers’ job action will impact students.

"It is going to be disruptive and more so as time progresses," he said.

"It is one of those actions that is cumulative, as increasingly, the parents become anxious about the progress of the children."

The union issued the strike notice after the Labour Relations Board ruled the services the union intends to withdraw are not "essential" and therefore not protected under the law that guarantees educational programs will continue during any strike.

There is no timetable for further action by the union and if the action is stepped up the union would have to go before the LRB again so it could rule on which of those services are essential.

The employer is seeking concession in negotiations, saying that previous contracts have restricted the ability of trustees and principals to direct education in the schools.

They are also offering a much lower pay increase than the 34 per cent over three years the teachers are seeking.

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