Classes in the Columbia Valley are on hold until Thursday, as members of the Windermere Valley Teachers’ Association join in on a three day provincial strike that begins today.
Nearly 28,000 B.C. Teachers’ Federation members voted yes to the strike option last week, after a ruling from the Labour Relations Board gave them the go-ahead to strike for up to three consecutive days. Nearly 9,000 teachers did not vote, and more than 10 per cent voted against strike action.
While local voting numbers were not released, Windermere Valley association president Doug Murray says the local vote “typically reflects what happens provincially.”
The strike comes hot on the heels of several local protests by and in support of teachers, and less than a week after the B.C. government began debating legislation that would extend current teacher pay and benefits for another six months. Meanwhile, a mediator would work with the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in an effort to find common ground on class sizes, special needs support and other issues.
That legislation — meant to suspend a teacher job action that’s been ongoing since the beginning of the school year and give those on both sides of the issue a “cooling off” period — hasn’t proved popular with teachers, locally or provincially.
Valley teachers rallied at Pothole Park February 27 to protest the bill.
“They’re trying to legislate us, and in my mind, they’re trying to create a crisis,” Murray told The Echo the day of the protest. “It’s the way things are done these days, instead of fixing them, in my opinion, they’re just kind of forcing things through.”
Teachers haven’t yet decided what action they will take locally during the strike, though Murray said they would likely be out in the community at some point during the week, and would also be meeting to study the government’s “cooling off” legislation.
“Kind of like a study sessions to look at what we’re up against, and to talk about it and go from there,” he said.
While he’s in favour of the strike, Murray said he doubts it will have much effect on the government or contract negotiations.
” But what I’m getting out of this is I can’t sit back and see what they’re doing to education and not speak up. I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“But what I’m hoping out of this whole mess is that parents do look and see what is really going on. We have a day or three to figure out how to communicate that out.”
Teachers have been without a contract since June of last year, and on a work-to-rule mandate since school began in September. Contract demands have included wage increases, smaller class sizes and more support for special needs students.
While schools will be open throughout the strike, School District 6 has asked parents to keep children at home until Thursday and bus services have been cancelled.
—With files from Tom Fletcher