Though they have been bargaining since March, the BCTF and the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union say that a strike vote is looming if they continue to see a lack of progress on what they consider the larger issues on the table.
But a strike vote, according to OSTU president Kevin Epp, doesn’t mean that schools won’t be reopening in September.
“Should we go ahead with a vote and should that vote endorse job action by the members, that job action won’t mean signs and picket lines, it will be the withdrawal of some of the services that teachers do,” said Epp, explaining that the Labour Relations Board defines it as a “strike vote” no matter what job action is being voted on.
“My way of phrasing it would be teach only, so that teachers work with kids but they don’t do some of the other administrative and meetings that go on,” he said. “We may choose, across the province, not to do things like report cards. Having said that, teachers will maintain contact with parents by email and phone calls. Teachers may or may not choose to do some of the other volunteer things they do, from clubs to extracurricular sports.”
The executive of the BCTF has been given the authority to call the vote if there is no progress at provincial and local bargaining tables, for the end of the month. Epp expects to hear soon whether or not the BCTF is going ahead with the vote.
“If it does, then teachers all over the province will vote within the last few days of the school year,” he said. The tone of the local negotiations is respectful on both sides of the table according to Epp, and the two sides have reached tentative agreement on some issues.
“They are not the key issues that teachers want to see addressed, they are some smaller subsidiary issues,” he said. “We haven’t had any luck in discussing any of the major issues. That’s because the employer feels they are mandated to only deal with a small list of items.”
According to a BCTF release, teachers have identified their objectives for this round of bargaining, which include “improving teaching and learning conditions (class size and composition, caseloads, learning specialist ratios and time for class preparation), a fair and reasonable compensation package including benefit improvements commensurate with teachers across Canada, and a return to local bargaining as the best solution to local issues.”
Part of the problem with moving forward, Epp said, is that while the provincial government under Gordon Campbell legislated education as an essential service during the last round of contract talks, the teachers do not have a clear idea of what that means in terms of education.
“The statutes in the labour code talk about essential services in terms of life and limb. That doesn’t sound educational to me,” he said, adding that he didn’t see how not having a teacher supervising children in a school could be described as a safety or danger issue.
“That is an interesting wrinkle that we are waiting for some guidance on from the LRB,” Epp said.