A bargaining breakdown between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the province has pushed teachers onto the picket lines in rotating action that will close Cowichan Valley schools next Thursday.
Naomi Nilsson, president of the Cowichan District Teachers Association, called the action Stage Two of the union’s recently voted on bargaining strategy.
"There has been no movement at the bargaining table on our key issue: class size and composition. It’s certainly our number one issue here in the Valley. Our BCTF executive committee made the decision that we need to escalate our job action," she said.
It’s been a contentious subject. "We know that the province is appealing class size and composition to the Supreme Court despite the fact that both in 2011 and in 2014 Justice Griffin said, yup. You can bargain that at the table.’ The government is still saying no to that, which is a difficulty because it’s taken us 10 years to get where we are," said Nilsson.
On Thursday Minister of Education Peter Fassbender said the teachers were being offered a new six-year-term, designed to open the door to a 10-year agreement, a length favoured by the province.
He said they were also being offered a time-limited signing bonus of $1,200 if a deal is reached by the end of the school year.
On Friday the province threatened to cut teachers’ wages by five per cent if a new contract isn’t reached by the time school is out for the summer. The threatened cut could go to 10 per cent if teachers engage in their planned rotating strikes.
"Next week, we’ll see certain locals go out on May 26, 27 and 28 and here we will be out on May 29," Nilsson confirmed. "Just for the one day, and then all the locals will be back in on May 30."
However, there is still the chance that a deal can be reached first.
"We’re hoping because we have six days before we go through with this, that this will be enough for the government to give [its negotiators] the mandate to complete this collective agreement. We’ve been bargaining now for 16 months and we would like a collective agreement by the end of June," she said.
In Cowichan, teachers will be picketing outside of public schools on May 29.
"We’re hopeful we can reach a deal at the table. But, we’ve been legislated in 2005 and just recently. I’m hoping it’s not the same pattern but it’s the same government and they just don’t like us. Everyone else seems to be getting a deal but they won’t even give us what they gave HEU [the Hospital Employees’ Union, which recently reached a tentative deal]," she said.
Across Vancouver Island, Sooke, Campbell River and Vancouver Island North will be on strike Monday, May 26. On May 27, teachers will be out in Saanich, Nanaimo and Alberni districts while on May 28, Greater Victoria, Qualicum and Vancouver Island West will be the subject of the strike.
On Thursday, May 29, Cowichan Valley teachers will be joined on the picket lines by their colleagues in Gulf Islands and Comox school districts.