No timeline yet for teacher job action, says Penticton union leader

Local teachers took their message to downtown Penticton during a three-day walkout in March 2012. They could be taking job action again after an affirmative strike vote this week. - Western News file photo
Local teachers took their message to downtown Penticton during a three-day walkout in March 2012. They could be taking job action again after an affirmative strike vote this week.
— image credit: Western News file photo

Teachers have voted 89 per cent in favour of a strike, but their local union leader expects business as usual in schools for the time being.

“The God’s honest truth is we don’t have a timeline” for job action,  said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.

“If there is no movement at the (bargaining) table, then we make a decision.”

The result of the province-wide strike vote was released late Thursday and is meant to put pressure on the B.C. government, which is seeking a 10-year deal with teachers, who are currently without a contract and looking for wage increases and improvements to class sizes and composition.

Woodward said job action is planned in three stages: the first would see teachers limit communications with administrators and refuse to supervise students outside classrooms; the second stage would see rotating walkouts; and the final stage would be a full strike.

With the strike mandate in place, teachers have 90 days to begin job action, although they first need to serve 72 hours’ notice.

Woodward is hopeful no job action will actually happen, but said the first stage would have minimal impact on students as teachers would continue to meet with parents, write report cards and continue extra-curricular activities.

Nonetheless, she said the strike vote was required to get the government’s attention.

“Teachers don’t want to have to (strike), but we do have to stand up for a fair agreement for working conditions and better support for kids,” Woodward said, “and that’s the bottom line.”

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said her staff is prepared for any eventuality.

In the first stage of job action, district staff and administrators would supervise students outside classrooms, and communicate with teachers face-to-face, she explained.

“So it adds an extra layer of responsibility to the middle management. It doesn’t really put a whole lot of pressure on government,” said Hyer, but “I don’t think teachers not doing supervision and not meeting with administrators will have a huge impact on students.”

If the job action escalated to a walkout or full strike, schools would close, because "a single school administrator could not ensure the safety of 200 kids,” said Hyer.

She remains optimistic a negotiated settlement will be reached, and is confident teachers will insulate their students from the labour unrest.

”“Even throughout the last round of job action (in 2012), I have to compliment our teachers: They still took their job in the classroom with the kids serious and they still worked hard to make a difference for kids,” Hyer said.



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