Teachers in Cranbrook are hoping an agreement with the B.C. government can be reached before they begin a full-scale strike on Tuesday, June 17.
Members of the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) voted earlier this week to approve a full walkout to put pressure on the provincial government as a new collective agreement is negotiated.
On Wednesday, the BCTF issued 72-hour strike notice, meaning a full-scale strike will begin on Tuesday unless an agreement has been reached by then.
In the meantime, Monday has been designated a study session for teachers, so schools won’t be open for students.
“We absolutely did not want to get here,” said Shelley Balfour, president of the Cranbrook District Teachers Association. “It is so disappointing for the teachers and the children because this is the end of the year. You’ve had these kids for the whole year and now we are without the opportunity to say goodbye. That’s very meaningful for kids.
“On the other hand, now is the time to put the pressure on. We’re running out of time. We can’t wait too much longer because then we’re in the summer.”
Hope remains that the BCTF and the government’s bargaining body, the B.C. Public School Employer’s Association, will reach a deal over the weekend.
“There’s still a glimmer of hope. We have Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday in order to come to the table and make the deal,” said Balfour.
“We had a big conference call (Thursday) morning. Our bargaining team is sitting, waiting, for the government to bring some money to the table. We have restructured our proposals… and they are set to bargain through the weekend.”
The news comes the same day that teachers in School District 5 are taking part in the third one-day strike in as many weeks.
Balfour said that, although the government and teachers are far apart on wage increases, that is not the biggest sticking point in the negotiations.
“Class size and composition is our number one issue. But in the same vein, you have to bring money to the table for class size and composition. It’s not about the salaries; it’s about class size and composition. That’s our number one fight,” she said. “Let’s just get going and fix that.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday that the strike notice was not unexpected, but acknowledged that students and parents are stressed by the situation.
He said the government will be at the bargaining table over the weekend to try and avert a strike, but that the union must sit down with “realistic expectations and a willingness to find solutions.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday the Labour Relations Board ruled that despite the strike, teachers in B.C. must mark provincial exams for senior students and have final grades ready for graduating students.
Teachers will prepare marks for senior high report cards, and will be available to supervise exams if school administration doesn’t have enough people to do it.
The strike will not affect graduation ceremonies, Balfour added.
“The exams will happen, grad will happen, all of that will be taken care of.”
Monday’s study session is a chance for teachers to get together to discuss the situation.
“We are all gathering to have our conversations and our planning sessions on where we are going to go from here. It’s an opportunity for us to get together to discuss as a whole group where we are at,” said Balfour.
With files from Canadian Press