Walking the picket line Monday (left to right) Rita Tomlinson

Walking the picket line Monday (left to right) Rita Tomlinson

Strong teacher strike mandate expected in Penticton area

Results of vote on possible full strike expected Tuesday night

With public opinion seemingly on their side, B.C. teachers finished voting Tuesday on their union’s request to proceed to a full strike that would shut down classes with just two weeks left in the school year.

The president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union predicted her members would send a clear message with their ballots.

“I’m getting the feeling that it will be a very strong yes,” said Leslea Woodward.

“And the message that we want to send is we’re backing up our bargaining team, who are sitting, working relentlessly with government, trying to get a fair deal and better support in place for kids.”

If they do proceed to a full strike, teachers would first have to provide three days’ notice.

Consequently, the earliest the teachers could walk out is Monday.

In a statement issued this week, the Education Ministry noted “every effort is being made to ensure the strike does not disadvantage students, nor delay their transition to the next grade or on to post-secondary,” but, “a full walkout may impact the last nine days of school before summer break begins on June 27.”

It advised parents that schools would be closed for students in kindergarten to Grade 9, so they should make child care arrangements and expect that report cards “may be more abbreviated than normal.”

High schools are expected to remain open for students in Grades 10 to 12 so they can write provincial exams through June 26.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association has already applied to the Labour Relations Board to have the administration and marking of such tests deemed an essential service.

After the Labour Relations Board ruled last week that the B.C. government was within its rights to dock educators’ pay by 10 per cent to reflect their reduced workload under a partial lockout, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced it would proceed with the vote on a full-scale strike.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggests that rotating strikes, which will close schools today in Okanagan Skaha and Friday in Okanagan Similkameen, have not negatively impacted the public’s perception of teachers.

Teachers had 44 per cent public support, compared to 31 per cent for the government, according to the result of the Angus Reid survey conducted June 6-7.

The balance of respondents expressed support for neither side.

Of those polled, 43 per cent said both sides should compromise on wages demands, 36 per cent said teachers are asking for too much, while 21 per cent said the government should offer more.

And on the issue of class size and composition, 62 per cent of respondents said the government should fund the system as set out in a recent court ruling won by the teachers, while 38 per cent said the province was right to appeal it.

A total of 804 people responded to the survey, which is considered accurate to plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2013.