Cheers and applause met Alberni District Teacher’s Union Ken Zydyk at a rally in support of the teachers in the ongoing struggle over compensation and class sizes that has been going since February 2013 and resulted in two weeks of school closures at the end of the 2013/2014 school year.
“It’s a difficult day for us today. Teachers more than anyone want to be in school today and we know that this is a big day for students, parents and the community,” he told the close to 200 parents, teachers and students that gathered at Hansen Hall on Johnston Road just after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 2, “and the reason that we’re not there today is because of the government and Christy Clark’s choice to keep schools closed.”
Zydyk said he was disappointed by the government’s lack of bargaining in good faith, citing its firing of the bargaining team and the trustee board that was then replaced by the government’s own choices.
“In June, Minister Fassbender promised on Father’s Day weekend that there would be bargaining 24/7,” he said, adding that the BCTF team cut their packets down significantly and presented it to the government’s bargaining team before being made to wait 48 hours for a response.
“The response was no, no counter proposals, no new ideas, nothing,” he said. Instead, the government has asked for the BCTF to “throw two B.C. supreme court wins away and we did not agree to that.”
The two court wins were Bill 28, which in 2002 stripped away teachers’ rights to bargain on class size and composition and was defeated in 2011, and Bill 22, which in 2012 did the same and was defeated in 2013. Earlier in 2014, the government was ordered to pay the BCTF $2 million over its refusal to bargain in good faith.
“It’s very disappointing that the goverment will not honour the two decisions of the B.C. Supreme Court. We think that rather than fight the court decisions, they should restore the funding to put those decisions back in,” Zydyk said, adding that it was disappointing to teachers that they were still having to fight over class sizes and composition.
The BCTF and the government had a pause in bargaining over the summer and went into talks only on Aug. 8.
“Our bargaining team was ready all summer,” Zydyk said, adding that “there was no change in government position.”
He’d like the government to come to mediation with the BCTF and mediator Vince Ready without any preconditions and with a willingness to compromise.
“We think that without the preconditions, for example throwing away our court desicions that were in our favour we can get this deal done with the help of Vince Ready but we need government to do that,” something that Zydyk says he hasn’t seen the government do.
“Christy Clark, Peter Fassbender and the government have decided that for them it is more important to subvert the legal process than to have children in school,” he said. “Christy Clark has decided that it’s more important strategically for government to try and break the union and break us through 10 per cent salary reduction and a lockout from doing volunteer work from students.”
Zydyk sees the $40 a day government allowance for parents with children 12 and under as a payout and a bargaining tool rather than a sign of government wanting to get students back into schools.
“$40 a day for parents to find alternatives rather than send their child to school. That’s more important for Christy Clark to spend $12 million dollars a day to keep children out schools than it is to spend $3 more a day per child to have them in school and support and getting the extra help when they need it. Our students deserve better and we will hold the line until we get better.”
There to support teachers was Alberni-Pacific Rim NDP MLA Scott Fraser, who was out at picket lines in front of Port Alberni schools this morning and throughout the summer.
“I get what this is about, this is about the future of public education in this province. It’s about constitutional rights and it’s about the kids.”
Fraser read from an open letter sent by B.C. NDP leader Jim Horgan on Sept. 1 that stated that “parents across our province have already paid a huge price for your government’s failure to resolve the labour dispute in our public education system” and that B.C. “children deserve the quality public education the government is responsible for delivering.” Horgan’s letter also called for B.C. Minister of Education Peter Fassbender “to be relieved of his duties as it has become clear Mr. Fassbender is not capable of doing his job of providing public education to all British Columbians.”
Jackalynn Meyer, a local single mother of two children going into kindergarten and grade 5, was at the rally to show her support for the teachers.
“I feel like it’s been an endless balance for all of the teachers. I have seen firsthand, volunteering in the classrooms, what they go through, class sizes are large and you couldn’t pay me enough money to sit in one of those classrooms.
“I think it’s so much more than the teachers, I think the teachers are a pawn in the government trying to privatize our education system,” said Richelle McKenzie, a mother of a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old in public schools. “I think we need to support our teachers and tell them thank-you for protecting our future and our kids future.”
McKenzie also doubts the government’s intentions with regard to the $40 per day allowance.
“I think that it was a way for the government to say that they’re not willing to mediate and that they’re just going to give away the teachers’ paycheques and they’re not willing to back down,” she said. “That scares me that they’re willing to break the law and just do whatever they feel like and ignore supreme court cases.”
School District 70 (Alberni) Superintendent Greg Smythe could not be reached in time but in an emailed statement last week he said that he hoped that “the labour impasse is quickly resolved” and students would be back in schools as soon as possible but that if the teacher strike continues into the school year parents are encouraged to not send their children to schools and find alternate arrangements
For more information and to sign up for the $40 a day allowance, parents can visit the government’s site at www.bcparentinfo.ca and the BCTF’s site at www.bctf.ca. For local information, parents can visit www.sd70.bc.ca.