The threat of severe fines may not be enough to dissuade the province’s 41,000 teachers from further job action despite the impending passing this week of Bill 22 to legislate them back to work, says the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union representative.
Andy Davidoff said Sunday that if the legislation to force teachers back to work passes, the union’s management will meet, develop a collective strategy, and then present that to the membership for a province-wide vote.
“And our options could be defying the legislation and facing the massive fines,” he said. “I can’t say that that won’t happen.”
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.
Currently, the teachers began Monday a three-day legal strike under a Labour Relations Board ruling, with the B.C. government expected to hammer through Bill 22 in the Legislature in Victoria by Wednesday to legislate them back to work.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has called the legislation “draconian” and characterized it as a bullying tactic to knuckle teachers under to net zero mandate the province is applying to all public sector jobs — meaning no wage increases. The teachers are asking for a 16 per cent wage increase over three years.
As a result, the attack on the union’s fundamental rights has forced the teachers to consider defying the legislation, said Davidoff.
“This is not about money, this is not about issues like that, it has now become a matter of standing up to Bill 22,” he said. “It is another example of the government’s total lack of respect for teachers, for public education, for worker’s rights and for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
However, the teachers’ action this week does not have the support of the majority of the population. An Ipsos Reid opinion poll late last week revealed the majority of people in B.C. oppose a full-scale strike by the province’s teachers.
People were asked if they would support ‘Teachers taking a full-scale-strike action, such as withdrawing classroom instruction for four days a week for two weeks.” There were 62 per cent who said they would oppose it.
When a Trail Daily Times weekly online poll asked ‘Should teachers be legislated back to work?’ it found 56 per cent of respondents voted ‘yes’ while 43 per cent voted ‘no.’
The Ipsos Reid poll also found a majority opposed the B.C. government’s legislation. Around 52 per cent opposed the province legislating an end to the contract dispute and imposing a contract on teachers, while 43 per cent of the people supported the idea.
When the poll asked who people believed was more fair and reasonable in the contract negotiations teachers had a slight edge, or around 31 per cent of the respondents.
The poll was conducted over 1,030 people last week. The margin of error is said to plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Teachers are not picketing schools this week, although they are “leafleting” outside of schools with information on what is going on and what is at stake.
And what is at stake is the future of the educational system that the BCTF sees as fundamentally flawed.
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 at stake, said Davidoff.
He felt it was “curious” the province was waiting to pass legislation this week when they had the power to call a sitting of the legislature on the weekend and pass the legislation within three days.
“If they really cared about inconveniencing parents, if they really cared about kids, why didn’t they pass the legislation more quickly because they could have stopped this strike completely?” he said. “This is all about showing us who is boss.”
Provincial legislation imposing a six-month cooling-off period and the appointment of a mediator in the contract dispute is not expected to be passed until late in March.
The school district has set up an information hotline with job action updates at 368-2222 or online at http://www.sd20.bc.ca/job-action-updates.html