Teachers begin provincial vote on action plan

Vote likely to have little impact on Okanagan Skaha, where teachers have already withdrawn from voluntary activities

Educators begin voting today on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation plan to oppose the back-to-work legislation contained in Bill 22.

The bill, adopted by the provincial government last month, imposed a cooling-off period following a three-day strike by B.C. teachers in March and appointed a mediator to help negotiate a contract for approximately 41,000 teachers, who have been without a deal since last June.

Now the BCTF is seeking approval from its members to implement its action plan “to resist” those provisions, explained Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Kevin Epp.

Among the measures contained in the action plan, he said, are a public relations campaign, a full stop to extra-curricular volunteer work and withdrawal from school-based meetings. The BCTF is also asking members if they wish to proceed with a full-on strike vote.

Epp said the local teachers’ union was one of 15 in B.C. that agreed to withdraw extra-curricular services back in March, so it’s unlikely this week’s vote, the results of which are expected Friday, will have a noticeable impact of students.

“I don’t believe there’s going to be a great deal of change here in this district once the vote results come out. But we’ll see. I think there will be a shift in the provincial scene where there will likely be some reaction. What that is, I don’t know.”

The early withdrawal of teachers’ extra-curricular services has already resulted in the cancellation of school-based events, such as the Rotary Good Will Shakespeare Festival in Summerland. Sporting events are also at risk.

Despite that, three Penticton Secondary School track athletes will still travel with their teacher-coach Geoff Waterman to Toronto next month for the Nike High School Grand Prix. The trip was formally approved Monday at the Okanagan Skaha School District 67 board meeting, although the kids will now officially be representing a local running club and not the school.

Epp said despite local teachers having already agreed to end their volunteer activities, exceptions will be made in cases where trips “had already been signed and sealed on the bottom line.”

“Those things, we understood, would conclude and carry on, and no new (activities) would be added,” he explained.

“It goes to teachers’ sense of… fairness, what is right. You wouldn’t just arbitrarily say, ‘We’re done.’”

SD 67 superintendent Wendy Hyer said district staff will closely watch the results of this week’s vote, although, “It’s pretty hard to prepare for a vote when you’re not sure what the outcome is going to be.”

She said, however, that the district will do whatever is necessary “to try to mitigate” any negative effects the teachers’ actions may have on students.

Board chair Ginny Manning said individual events that may be threatened by the teachers’ withdrawal of services will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, possibly with help from community volunteers. Graduation ceremonies, though, “might look different.”