Valley teachers set to take strike vote

"At this point, there are absolutely no plans for disruption," Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers Association said on Wednesday. "It’s not like we’re going to take a strike vote and be out the following week. That’s not the way it’s going to work."

Teachers in the Cowichan Valley will be taking a strike vote next week, joining colleagues across the province, but it’s simply part of bargaining, Rolls said, adding, "It’s not a decision that came very easily."

The last time the BC Teachers’ Federation bargained with the BC Liberals, the result was a disruptive work-to-rule campaign.

Rolls didn’t want to speculate if that might be a possibility again.

"At this point, I don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening because a lot of it will depend on what the government chooses to do next," Rolls said.

Although this BCTF action appears to have arisen quickly, teachers have been bargaining with the province for well over a year, according to Rolls.

"Everything was agreed to, not with a media blackout, but in the sense that everything was going to be done without going to the media so both sides could bargain," she said. "Things were actually moving forward."

After the last provincial election, that all changed. The newly formed government changed what BC Public School Employers’ Association, the province’s own negotiating team had been given to work with, Rolls said.

Now, Peter Cameron, the province’s chief negotiator, has begun making public comments, claiming that the BC Teachers’ Federation is refusing to put their cards on the table.

"We are ready to talk about everything. The only thing the teachers haven’t done is talk about percentages when it comes to pay increases," Rolls said.

"I have utmost faith in our bargaining team and their extreme patience when it comes to trying to get to something that’s negotiated. If you look at the track record of this government, what have they done except legislate us and strip us?" Before speaking to the Citizen, Rolls had been meeting with LCTA members.

"It’s hard to see them because they are working so hard because we care about our communities, we care about those kids and we want to see things start to happen."

And the provincial action doesn’t even address what teachers could face locally, Rolls said.

"We’re hopefully not faced this year with a whole lot of closures. But we don’t know what’s going to happen because there were to be cuts every year for three years. And this is year two."

The recent court decision and the government’s protests about it underline one thing, according to Rolls.

"It actually tells you what we’ve lost in the past 10 years."

Earlier this week, provincial negotiator Cameron said restoring old class size and composition formulas is a poor way to allocate resources. The government prefers a system in which teachers and principals would be able to invest money where it’s needed most, he said.

"Why would you not go with a lot of weight, and decisive weight, on the teachers’ opinions – the ones that are actually working with the kids?" he said. "To us, that’s a more professional approach than deriving allocation of resources by a formula that is decades old at this point." Once the BCTF takes a strike vote, it would have 90 days to activate it by taking job action.