More than 30,000 B.C. teachers voted almost unanimously Wednesday to end their strike if the B.C. government will send their dispute to binding arbitration.
The government, however, had already dismissed the province-wide vote, with Education Minister Peter Fassbender calling it a “ploy.”
In School District 5, board chair Frank Lento said he was not surprised by the results of the vote by teachers.
On Tuesday, the Board of Education approved sending a letter to Fassbender and the BCTF urging an arbitration panel.
“Each side would chose a representative and then each representative would chose a chairman,” explained Lento on Thursday. “Then it would be a panel for binding arbitration.
“The difference would be each party would select an arbitrator and then each arbitrator would select a chairperson. It’s something that’s happened in the past, years ago there would be arbitration panels to resolve disputes. So we sent that along for their consideration urging them to get the matter resolved.”
On August 5, Lento wrote the letter to Fassbender regarding the ongoing labour dispute.
“We wish to add our voices to the growing number of Boards across the province that are urging government to reach a fair, negotiated settlement prior to school start-up in September,” he wrote.
The letter went on to say that if an agreement can’t be reached, the board urges government to seek mediation or if necessary, binding arbitration.
“Our Board doesn’t see any long term benefits to a legislated resolution and anticipates considerable damage if agreement is not reached prior to school start-up in September.”
Lento ends the letter by saying: “Once again we remind government that education is not a cost to be managed but an investment to be made — in our children, our economy and our future.”
Fassbender had a statement waiting when the result was announced Wednesday evening by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
“As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case,” Fassbender said. “That’s because the two sides remain too far apart on wages and benefits.”
BCTF president Jim Iker said the government is obstructing solutions to the dispute.
“This government has said no to arbitration, has tried to stall and block mediation, and has not moved on any monetary proposals in negotiations since June,” Iker said.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the union is seeking $315 million per year more than the government is offering, including wages, benefits and a fund to reduce class size and increase special needs support.
Now in the fourth week of full-scale strike action that began last spring, the BCTF received $8 million Wednesday from the B.C. Federation of Labour to use as a hardship fund for teachers who have lost more than four weeks’ pay. The B.C. Nurses’ Union put in another $500,000.
With files from Tom Fletcher