Joining fellow union members from across B.C., Cowichan Valley teachers were expected to start job action today.
Following a plan laid out by their provincial union, the BC Teachers Federation, they are cutting back outside supervision and communications with administrators but will continue to prepare report cards and other in-school duties.
Teachers think it’s time to act, according to Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers Association and vice-president of the Cowichan Valley Teachers Federation.
The province’s Education Minister, Peter Fassbender, has recently accused the BCTF of not making any effort to bargain.
"It’s a little disappointing but not at all surprising," Fassbender said in a press release about the job action. "Over the past few weeks, it appears the BCTF has been more focused on implementing its strike plan than bargaining at the table.
"There has been virtually no movement from the BCTF on their wage and contract positions. The union hasn’t moved off its opening position of approximately 13.5 per cent increase over three years, nor has it withdrawn any of its many other monetary proposals."
The employer’s association will respond to the job action, Fassbender said, to put pressure on the union to resolve the situation.
Accusations of lack of bargaining effort cuts two ways, Rolls said.
"We’re disappointed, too. We’re disappointed in the fact that they’re not offering anything, that they don’t appear to be bargaining in good faith. There’s a whole lot of stuff that isn’t being funded within schools," she said.
Teachers must fight an uphill battle against some members of the public who say teachers just want raises, she said.
"The real bottom line is what other professions end up spending their own money doing their job? Teachers spend hundreds of dollars every year."
Rolls knows that from personal experience.
"When I moved out of my classroom at Palsson [Elementary School] a couple of years ago, even some of the furniture was mine."
Parent advisory councils buy equipment and supplies for schools and some things are supplied by the district "but the majority of things that are in a teacher’s classroom today are things that are bought and paid for out of teachers’ own pockets. I don’t think that’s known by a lot of people," Rolls said.
And that doesn’t touch the food and sometimes clothing that teachers cover for low-income children, she added.
On the other side of the discussion, the teachers of the province have just come off winning some court battles only to find they’re expected to immediately give up what they’ve just won back.
"How many times does the court have to rule that these are things that should be in the collective agreement, and yet here’s the government turning around and trying to do it again?" Rolls asked. She said teachers were also concerned about the idea of a 10-year contract.
"They can’t even say they’ll be government for 10 years. How can we predict what things will be like 10 years from now? Who out there in the public would agree to a 10-year contract?" Teachers want labour peace, she said.
"Look at how much provincial money has gone on fighting court cases. That’s money that could have gone directly to kids. That is never mentioned at all. How have we gotten to this point in B.C.? "Teachers are on the front line. You really can’t separate the fact that our working conditions are what kids learn under. The only way we can fight for kids is to fight for what we can through bargaining."
On Wednesday, the Cowichan Valley’s teachers will start their action with no immediate school closures or disruptions to students, according to the BCTF’s agenda.
"This is in some respects similar to what we did a couple of years ago and in some ways different," Rolls said. "As to supervision, we have meetings this week to determine what will be done to cover that. But we will be doing report cards, we will be meeting with parents. It’s only administration that’s going to feel it," she said.
Teachers are feeling pressure.
"If I was a parent, I’d make sure I was certain there was somebody to supervise my kids when I go and drop them off in the morning. Teachers will not walk away if someone needs anything but at the same time it’s not going to be supervision as usual," she said.
No one knows yet when B.C. teachers might move to Stage Two of their job action.
"There is no timeline. Basically we are taking our lead from our BCTF executive, who are actually at the bargaining table. There are bargaining days set for next week. We’ll see what the government wants to do. Job action is a bargaining tool.
"I know teachers call this time of year ‘Aprilmayjune’ because it goes by so quickly and there’s so much to do, so much of celebration of what the kids have learned. It’s the completion of our school year; we don’t want to spend it without the kids either but it will be more than a year ago in June that bargaining started," Rolls said. "We aren’t thrilled with this but we’re getting beat up in the media."