Members of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association conducted a rally this past Friday as the teachers strike rolled on.
But president Chris Rolls continues to maintain a clear message — teachers at the lake want to go back to work as soon as possible.
The teachers were positioned at the bridge on South Shore Road and were joined by numerous parents and children as they waved to passing vehicles.
The rally came in the afternoon whilst earlier that morning the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation announced that a vote to go back to work would be conducted by teachers throughout the province once the provincial government accept a binding arbitration proposal and remove clause E80.
“BCTF has now said through Jim Iker and our executive that we will take a vote to go back to work if they agree to binding arbitration and take clause E80 off the table, which relates to the contract,” said Rolls. “Clause E80 is the court’s decision. Lets have binding arbitration on everything else and as soon as they make that decision, we can be back. It’s up to Christy Clark.”
But nevertheless, a vote by the teachers will now take place today regardless.
“First of all, they have to accept what was put out to them,” said Rolls. “[If] that happens and Jim Iker and our executive talk with the government and they start the process for binding arbitration, we’ll take our vote with the results then determined and we will go back without job action.”
Rolls is hoping for a quick answer and will have the ballot ready for voting today.
“I want to clarify, what we’re demanding is essentially the kind of things Clark and Fassbender have been talking about as well. Out of one side of their mouth they’re saying they want to see what happens with the court case appeal, even though they’ve lost that twice already. But at the same time, they’re trying to bargain their way out of that by having E80 in there. They took E81 out but E80 is still in there. E80 is their attempt to bargain away for an answer for them in a court room. We’re saying put all that away.”
“It would’ve been great if they’d given us an answer today. The liberal caucus was talking about what they are going to do with us ‘greedy, horrible teachers that don’t listen to them.’ They were together when the announcement was made. It’s up to Christy Clark. Make a decision Christy.”
Michelle Davis teaches Grade 4 at Palsson Elementary and is on the same page.
“We’ve been fighting for 12 years,” said Davis. “We’ve won two court cases and we are still fighting for the same thing.”
Davis admits that the potential of a vote to go back to school is an encouragement.
“It puts us back to work but we are still not sure what is going to happen with the court case and that could take a long time,” she said. “We are still wondering about class size composition and help for special needs kids.”
Kim Walters will be teaching Grade 3 at Palsson this year and is also hoping for a quick end to the strike now.
“We don’t have enough specialist teachers,” she said. “We have one counsellor that comes once a week and that’s just not adequate. They need to see someone every week. If the counsellor comes today but the issue happens tomorrow, how does that help that child? We need more counselling services. In terms of our learning assistance and resource, that’s combined, one teacher does both of those roles and I think we are less than half time this year which again is not adequate.”
Davis says students need reading help every morning and not for “six weeks twice a week.”
“In our class we normally have seven or eight special needs students but our old contract said we could only have three,” she said. “But the other problem with that is the waiting list for testing is so long, it’s about three years. During that three years there is loads of paperwork and finally when the student gets tested, there is no guarantee of support.”
Walters echoed Davis’ thoughts.
“Last year we were able to put through two children for testing in our whole school and we usually have about 10 or 12 every year that need to be tested. Early intervention is the best answer, not waiting three or four years down the road.”
Rolls says the members have been ready to go back to work for months.
“We’ve been ready to go back all along,” she said. “We’ve been out here all summer and we have tremendous support in this town and we appreciate that because what happens with our negotiations now and what happens with that court appeal has huge implications for kids at the lake. We need to hang onto our two schools. We need to have special needs kids and every kid in our classrooms.”
Fassbender has said the province wants a negotiated deal, not one reached through arbitration or legislating teachers back to work.
Government negotiator Peter Cameron told Black Press earlier this week arbitration was unlikely because it would put the province at risk of an extremely expensive outcome.
“It doesn’t seem to be a good solution from our perspective,” Cameron said, adding that binding arbitration takes the decision out of the hands of both the government and the BCTF.
“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” he said. “And it involves a third party, who would likely be a labour relations person rather than an educator, making educational decisions.”
-with files from Kolby Solinski