A group preaching “just say no to bully Bill 22” held a moment of silence at the Trail Cenotaph Wednesday to show their respect for those who’ve given their lives to defend Canadian rights and freedoms.
Rights that are being violated with the pending bill that legislates teachers back to work, according to the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union (KCTU).
Andy Davidoff, KCTU president, calls it “ironic” that the Education Improvement Act attacks fundamental Charter of Rights and Freedoms and paves the way for major contract stripping and union busting.
“This is not just about teachers anymore, this is about every public sector union in the province waking up and realizing that this is a test that the government is performing to see if they can see this through with teachers,” he said. “If they do, then every single one of them is going to feel the same sting of legislation.”
About 200 people attended the event “highlighting the government’s lack of support for public education in B.C.,” which was led by the local teachers’ union but was supported by a number of other unions, who spread the same message as they marched through downtown to rally outside School District 20’s board office.
“Solidarity for all the unions – together we’re power,” said Ed Evans, Canadian Union of Postal Workers local 842 president for Trail and Rossland. “The same situation happened to us so we feel that we’re being undermined by provincial and federal governments now.”
Evans is referring to the nation-wide postal strike last year that ended with back-to-work legislation.
The impeding Bill 22 will force an end to Phase 1 teacher job action and impose a six-month cooling off period, during which time a mediator will be brought in and teachers’ right to strike will be suspended. The mediator is expected to report back by the end of June.
“It robs teachers of their rights and hurts kids,” said Davidoff.
With no improvements to teacher preparation time, no class size limits (except at primary grades), no limits on the number of students with special needs in classrooms, and no seniority rights for teachers who are transferred or laid off, the union is concerned the province doesn’t have the education of B.C. children in mind, he added.
Casey Russell was among the young supporters making a stand at the rally, not only in support of his mom who is a French immersion teacher at Twin Rivers Elementary in Castlegar but for himself and his fellow students.
“It’s really important to have a limit on how many students per classroom because you don’t want to have like 40 people in a class,” said the Grade 8 Stanley Humphries Secondary student. “It will be really hard to teach, especially if half are special needs kids.”
Teachers began a three-day legal strike Monday under a Labour Relations Board ruling while the B.C. government was expected to hammer through Bill 22 in the Legislature in Victoria.
If the legislation to force teachers back to work passes, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation management will meet to develop a collective strategy and then present that to the membership for a province-wide vote.
The teachers and their union could be shelling out nearly $17 million per day in fines – $475 per teacher in addition to losing their pay -– for every day of protest in defiance of the legislation.
Teachers are back to work today and Friday and while some school districts may plan for further strike action in the coming weeks; School District 20 is rolling into spring break.