After a special general union meeting in Castlegar Wednesday afternoon, the majority of local teachers voted ‘Yes’ to end their labour dispute with the province through binding arbitration.
According to the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) 99.4 per cent agreed to end the strike through third party resolution.
That percentage reflects the Kootenay Columbia vote, but a breakdown of numbers won’t be released because results are sent to the BCTF and released in one go.
“Our policy in the BCTF is not to release local results,” Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union (KCTU) told the Trail Times Thursday morning. “But I can tell you there was resounding support for binding arbitration with teachers in the Kootenay Columbia.”
The voting results weren’t unexpected, conceded Education Minister Peter Fassbender in a Sept. 10 news release.
“As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case,” said Fassbender. “That’s because the two sides remain too far apart on wages and benefits.”
Not so, says Davidoff, in response to the government’s position that meeting the BCTF’s demands would weigh on the province’s taxpayers.
“For 12 years, the teachers have saved the government $250 million a year,” he said. “That’s $3 billion saved since 2002 and now we are saying it’s time to start putting that money back into the system. Not in our back pockets, but into the system.”
Davidoff was referring to the government’s removal of clauses related to class size and classroom composition from the teachers’ collective agreement in 2002.
A B.C. Supreme court judge twice ruled that action as a violation of the teachers’ charter rights.
“Those facts are undisputed,” he added. “And the pressure on the system needs to be relieved especially when it comes to support for our special needs students. We are fighting for support of our students and for the government to put some of those savings back into the schools.”
There’s no official word from School District 20’s board of trustees over the matter of binding arbitration, and there won’t be until the end of the month.
Darrel Ganzert, SD20 board chair, said the teacher’s proposal to the province came in too late for the school board’s Sept. 8 meeting, but the topic will be debated during the Sept. 29 meeting at the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre in Trail.
“This will be discussed at the next meeting,” said Ganzert. “Whether we can lend our support for binding arbitration or not. Parents are asking us to call for an immediate cessation of the strike along the lines of what BCTF is offering,” he explained. “So there will be a pretty wide ranging debate.”
He maintains that the boards of education have been largely frozen out of the bargaining process, though two advisors do sit with the bargaining team but do not have a vote and do not determine strategy.
Ganzert is a retired teacher and as a past KCTU president, was involved in many strikes.
“I was hard nosed about protecting public education,” he recalled. “But I do not listen into any bargaining negotiations or discussions now because of conflict of interest. But I still feel I have a lot of support from the teachers because of my background because it was most important that public education was defended.”