Teachers to take strike vote next week

Provincial wage offer too low, class size and support limits still not on table, BCTF's Jim Iker says

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker

B.C. teachers will vote on another mandate to strike March 4-6, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker said Tuesday.

“Unreasonable proposals” from the province’s negotiating team include wage increases lower than what other public sector unions have received, and a continued refusal to put class size and special needs support limits back into the contract, Iker told a news conference in Vancouver.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said wage negotiations “have to start somewhere” and after a year of bargaining, the BCTF has yet to present a wage demand. He declined to provide specifics of the government offer, but said classroom conditions are on the negotiating table.

“Clearly we’re at the table with class size and composition,” Fassbender said. “Our negotiators presented a package of proposals. We are still waiting to see the full proposal, including the wages, from the BCTF.”

Iker confirmed the union has not yet made a wage proposal, after a year of negotiations to replace a contract that expired in June 2013. The union described the government’s offer as a 0.5 per cent increase on ratification, not retroactive to the past year, making three years with no increase.

“The proposal is followed by another zero for 2014-15 school year and then various ones and point fives over the next four years,” the BCTF said in a statement.

Iker said any strike action would be phased in, and would not immediately include forcing teachers to stop extra-curricular volunteer work, withholding report cards or walking off the job.

Peter Cameron, appointed last year as chief negotiator for B.C.’s 60 school boards, said Tuesday he is surprised the union is going to a strike vote without tabling its complete position. There have been hints at the bargaining table that the BCTF has an “extreme” wage demand, he said.

Cameron said the BCTF has characterized the public school system as being in “free fall,” when in fact completion rates have improved over the 12 years when class size and support have been in dispute.

“The graduation rate for special needs kids, for aboriginal kids, has gone up dramatically since 2001,” Cameron said.

 

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