Victoria teachers ready for strike vote

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After a spring spent at the bargaining table, teachers in British Columbia will hold a series of votes starting June 24 to decide whether a September strike is the next step toward securing a new contract with the province.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is having ongoing discussions about a new collective agreement with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

Later this month, union members will cast their ballots and decide if the first phase of a teacher strike will begin Sept. 6.

“The pressure of the first phase will be on administration,” said Jim Iker, first vice-president of the BCTF. “We’ll still be in our classrooms teaching, serving our students and doing what we need to do. And what we enjoy doing the most is teaching our students and working with them.”

Iker is at the table with the employers’ association, the accredited bargaining agent for the province’s 60 public boards of education.

Talks have centred around class size and composition, as well as teacher prep time and salaries. Also at the table, the bargaining process itself, which Iker and the BCTF would like to see adjusted to give local teachers’ federations more say over regional issues.

“We want to see more local bargaining happening, so we can see local parties sit down and deal with local issues and find local solutions,” Iker said. “A lot of local school districts have not been willing to agree to dates for local bargaining.”

After just six days of local bargaining, Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association is “quite disappointed” with the negotiations.

“Currently we have no new (local bargaining) dates scheduled, so we don’t even have a process in place to be talking,” Ehrcke said. “The local table has actually gone much more slowly and we’ve had much more difficulty there – even getting into discussions – than at the provincial table.”

Meanwhile, negotiations over class size and composition began following a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in April that found the 2001 removal of class size and composition legislation unconstitutional. While the legislation remains unchanged, the government has agreed to a one-year timeline for discussions.

The BCTF’s current contract expires June 30. It was the first-ever negotiated contract with B.C.’s 40,000 teachers after a series of contracts were imposed by NDP and B.C. Liberal governments.

nnorth@saanichnews.com