Greater Trail students asked to stay home as teachers’ dispute heats up

B.C. Teachers Federation announced their intention to perform a full-scale withdrawal of services — from March 5 to March 7

Many parents in Greater Trail will be scrambling Monday to make child care plans for school-age children as the province’s teachers begin their three-day strike.

On Thursday the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) announced their intention to perform a full-scale withdrawal of services — from Monday, March 5 to Wednesday, March 7 —while politicians in Victoria face off next week over the government’s back-to-work legislation (Bill 22).

In a letter to parents on Thursday, School District No. 20 (Kootenay Boundary) superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach said they are requesting parents keep their children home for the three days of job action.

“While school facilities will remain open under the supervision of school district staff, we will be unable to provide students with instruction or appropriate supervision during this period of job action,” he said.

School district buses will not be running during the teacher strike, he added. And barring any illegal strike action, school will be back in Thursday and Friday, Luterbach noted.

“Unless (teachers) were going to defy the Labour Relations Board and stay out longer, then it wouldn’t be open Thursday, but we’ll play it day by day,” he said.

Nearly 28,000 BCTF members voted yes to the strike option out of the 32,209 who voted Tuesday and Wednesday, a rapid response to legislation introduced this week to force a “cooling-off period” until the end of August and impose heavy fines on the union and its members for strikes during that time.

Almost 9,000 teachers did not vote, with more than 10 per cent (4,263) voting against strike action.

“Once the bill has been given royal assent it then becomes the law and teachers would need to return to the classroom,” said Luterbach. “At this time we are unsure of the timing of when the bill will be enacted.”

Under a Labour Relations Board (LRB) ruling on essential services, the BCTF could give two school days’ notice before they could strike. However, the LRB ruling prohibits picket lines, allowing unionized support staff to go to work. Administrators will supervise students during the strike, but normal instruction will not take place, said Luterbach.

Teachers will only be in a legal strike position until the legislation is passed.

Debate on the Bill 22 — to extend the current teacher pay and benefits for another six months — began Thursday, while mediation between the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association continues on such issues as class sizes and special needs support.

Bill 22 will impose a net-zero contract and restricts the ability of teachers to negotiate improved learning conditions, said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, and eliminates their civil and labour rights.

“Teachers are determined and united in their opposition to Bill 22 and to the bullying tactics of a provincial government that has deliberately under funded public education for a decade,” she said.

B.C. teachers have been without a contract since June. The BCTF is asking for a 15 per cent wage increase over three years, while the government says it has no cash for any wage or benefits increases under its net-zero mandate for all public-sector contracts.

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