Teachers will vote on Sept. 10 on their union’s proposal to take their long-running dispute to binding arbitration, a plan that was rejected almost immediately by the B.C. government as public schools remained closed for a second consecutive week.
“What we want is (government) to agree to go in and let a third party decide, because they have not been willing to sit down with us and bargain in good faith,” explained Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Leslea Woodward.
She said the independent arbitrator would be asked to find compromise on wages, benefits, and preparation time, but the more contentious issues of class size and composition would be kept off the table until a B.C. government court appeal on the matter is heard this fall.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said results of the vote will be available Wednesday evening. A yes vote will give certainty to the union’s position and is the “easiest way” to get schools open again, he said.
Teachers would also agree to reopen schools during arbitration, but B.C.’s education minister dismissed the proposal as a “ploy.”
“Arbitration is not something this government is going to consider,” said Peter Fassbender, who later explained that the province’s last attempt at binding arbitration resulted in a costly deal with doctors that required a tax increase to pay for it.
The BCTF wants $225 million a year to improve classroom conditions, spent only on new teachers, as an interim measure while a court challenge is heard.
The government has budgeted $75 million, some of which is paid to teaching assistants who belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Fassbender said he would not hand the budget implications of a union settlement over to a third party.
Despite the minister saying no in advance, Woodward still expects a strong yes vote.
“What it (will signal) is the fact that it’s not just the leadership of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation making decisions without the support of the membership,” she said.
Meanwhile, the board of the Okanagan Skaha School District is preparing to write its third letter in four months calling on both sides to reach a negotiated settlement.
“We keep getting asked: ‘What are you doing? What are you doing? Do more,’ chairman Bruce Johnson said as he explained the purpose of the missive following Monday’s school board meeting.
He said the letter will also call on the government to fully fund any cost increases contained in a deal with teachers and keep any money saved during the strike within the education system.
Trustees plan to call for a separate meeting with local MLAs to discuss the strike.
NDP education critic Rob Fleming said an essential service ruling by the Labour Relations Board to reopen schools isn’t likely to offer a quick solution. The board views the fall strike as separate from the long teacher work-to-rule campaign and two weeks of closed schools last June, and so far neither side has applied for such a ruling, he said.
— With files from Black Press