Cameron Orr and Tom Fletcher
As anyone with school-age children knows by now, teachers were not reporting to work for the past two days as they take part in province-wide job action.
The B.C. Teachers’ Association served strike notice after teachers across the province endorsed the option in a province-wide vote.
The union is required to give two school days’ notice before being in a legal strike position, under a Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services that allows for up to three consecutive days of full strike action.
Education Minister George Abbott said Thursday that schools will be open, and parents may send children to school if they do not have other care arrangements. They will be supervised and safe, but likely confined to group activities in gyms, Abbott said.
A letter sent to parents in the Bulkley Valley from superintendent Chris van der Mark encouraged parents to find alternate arrangements for students for those three days. While he notes administration and CUPE staff will be at schools, effective supervision will be challenging with the amount of people on hand.
The LRB ruling prohibits picket lines, allowing unionized support staff to go to work. Administrators will supervise students, but normal instruction will not take place.
The B.C. government began debate last Thursday on legislation that would extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months, while a mediator works with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in an effort to find common ground on class sizes, special needs support and other issues.
Nearly 28,000 BCTF members voted yes to the strike option out of the 32,209 who voted last week.
Bulkley Valley Teachers Union President Karin Bachman said teachers’ are concerned over this latest bill to get them to work.
“Our concern is the egregiousness of Bill 22,” said Bachman.
Those concerns include class size and composition issues, as well as possible precedents for future job actions.
“It sets a new low for public sector bargaining and it will become the new reality if we don’t stand up against it,” she said.
Locally she said there is little concern over the size of classes but class composition is something local teachers face.
“The class sizes are not egregious here like they are in other places in the province but definitely we have class composition concerns and we do need more time for learner support teachers,” she said.
She said there is less funding available today for kids at risk — those who have fallen behind their classmates.
As teachers strike this week, buses are not running but StrongStart centres remain open.
van der Mark emphasized this labour dispute is between teachers and the province and at a local level he said they’ve been fortunate to have a great working relationship to have things running as normal as possible.
“We’re hoping that despite this three day interruption that that will continue,” he said.
Updates from the school district can be found online at sd54.bc.ca.