It’s the last week of August and teachers have had to take to the picket lines instead of the classroom.
Out here in Lake Cowichan, teachers continued picketing on Monday, along with all other teachers in BC.
Mediation is in sight, as Vince Ready has said that he is prepared to sit down with the BCTF and the provincial government, but so far the minister of education, Peter Fassbender, has not made a move to begin talks.
According to the CBC, BCTF president Jim Iker challenged the minister to make his move at a teacher’s gathering in Kamloops this past weekend.
“My message to the minister today and his rhetoric of 24/7 bargaining, is let’s see it. How about tomorrow? Let’s get this deal done,” Iker said. ““The holdout has been government and their unwillingness to enter full-scale mediation and compromise. We’re ready to negotiate anytime. We’ve been ready all summer.”
Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers’ Association, has the same message.
“The bottom line for us is we want to be back in school, but technically we are also locked out as much as we are still on strike,” says Rolls.
This is the first time, that Rolls can remember in her time with the LCTA, that teachers have been locked out.
“We want to be back,” reiterates Rolls. “We’re very optimistic that Vince Ready has been appointed, and we’re also very optimistic that he is talking to both sides, so in a sense we’re kind of on the cusp of mediation, but mediation isn’t occurring.”
Rolls says that what teachers really need at this time is for parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens to start contacting the premier, the education minister, the local MLA, Bill Routley, education critic Rob Fleming, opposition leader John Horgan, and SD79’s official trustee, Michael McKay.
“You don’t necessarily have to agree with either side in order to support mediation,” says Rolls. “Let them (the government) know that mediation needs to happen, and it needs to happen before the end of August,” says Rolls. “So that we can get back to school for September.”
According to Rolls, wages are not the issue for teachers. Once again it is class size and composition that they are fighting for.
“(Wages) haven’t been dropped (from the bargaining table), but throughout June and throughout the summer there have been major moves on the teachers’ side,” says Rolls. “There have been absolutely no moves on the government’s side.”
McKay believes there are bigger things to focus on than the salary aspect of the teachers’ contract.
“I understand the gap between parties is small and if that was the only matter to be resolved then I expect they would have found a way to resolve it by now.”
Class size and composition are a huge issue for the Lake, according to Rolls.
“Because we have kids that need supports that we’re not able to give them within our current system, and having those class size/composition will help give those kids supports, and having minimal staffing levels — especially for specialist teachers like librarian, special ed., resource — that will really help us in getting those kids support.”
Rolls says that the class size/composition factor would help to ensure that schools stay open in Lake Cowichan.
“The teachers at the lake feel that this is very much about protecting the rights of the kids at the lake,” says Rolls. “And that the issue that we’re fighting hardest for is class size/composition language.”
The BCTF has stated that they know that it’s too late to have class size and composition in place for September.
“We’re asking the government to put aside some money so that we can begin talking about how that money is going to help classrooms and how that money is going to deal with the class size/composition issue throughout BC,” says Rolls.
In exchange, the BCTF has offered to drop all grievances and arbitrations related to class size and composition.
“So this actually would save the government a lot of money,” says Rolls. “And they’re not willing to talk class size/composition period. They seem to be holding out for the court appeal.”
The government had argued that retroactively restoring class size and composition language it removed from teachers’ contracts a dozen years ago — a move a B.C. Supreme Court judge twice deemed unconstitutional — would create chaos, according to a Globe and Mail article from February of this year.
“The class size/composition issues could be a few years yet,” says Rolls. “Through mediation the government will have to agree at some point to talk to us about class size and composition.”
McKay agrees that class size and composition are important long-term goals.
“I think it will take commitment and looking at what it means beyond the numbers formula,” says McKay. “It will continue to build over time.”
In response to the government’s statement that they will provide $40/day to parents with kids under the age of 13, if the strike continues into the school year, for child care costs, leaves a lot of questions, according to Rolls.
“That’s money that the government has saved by us being on strike and by the 10 per cent that they were deducting off of our wages,” says Rolls. “So basically, the money that they’ve saved and the money that they’ve spent on the appeal, could very well go a long way to solving the issues with class size and composition.”
Rolls says the lack of details is suspicious. Details such as whether money is tax exempt or deductible, whether parents have to have receipts for childcare and why parents can’t apply for the funds until after the strike.
“We don’t have enough programs already for those kids. So what in particular are parents expected to do in order to get that money?”
If you would like to see an end to this dispute, Rolls encourages you to contact the office of the premier, the education minister, the local MLA and the official trustee, and make your voice heard.