If you're not interested, scroll on down and enjoy the rest of my blog!
The Strike Plan
The Strike Plan
Initially, teachers had a plan of escalating action. September 27 marked the beginning of phase one, which was to last two weeks and involved the withdrawal of supervision duties and administrative paperwork (handing out notices, collecting school fees, etc). Phase two was to be two weeks of rotating strikes where any given school district in the province would only be out one day per week. Finally, if nothing was resolved by October 24, phase three involved a full scale walkout.
That plan was quickly changed when the government passed Bill 12, which imposed a contract and essentially made any job action illegal. However, Bill 12 once again did absolutely nothing to address any of the concerns that teachers wanted to discuss at the bargaining table. It was an insult to teachers, who are already tired of the government's clear stance against teachers. (For example, in 2003 the government changed the BC College of Teachers to be comprised of only government appointed representatives. Like every other profession in BC, teachers used to be self-governed. With the backing of the courts, we withheld college fees until a change was made.) In emergency meetings earlier this week, teachers voted 90.5% in favour of walking off the job starting today, regardless of any back to work legislation that will be or has been passed. Teachers are not going back to work until we have negotiated some kind of contract and all members have voted to return to work. This is more a political protest now than a strike, and it could mean heavy fines and possibly even jail time for union leaders or even individual members. There's even talk of a provincial general strike. It's big.
This being said, striking is NOT what teachers want to be doing. Kids need to be in school. It's a huge inconvenience for parents, especially lower income families. And teachers are of course not being paid while they're not working. But in the grand scheme of things, no matter what people say, this is for the long range benefit of students. It's so hard to see that when it's such an uncomfortable situation in the here and now.
There is a great document on the BC Teachers Federation website that gives a summary of the context of this strike. That is where I got a lot of this information.
Issue # 1: A collective agreement that protects working and learning conditions .
In 2002, the government tore up teachers' legally binding negotiated contract. The biggest thing that was removed was guarantees on working and learning conditions, meaning things like the elimination of class size limits and guarantees for support for kids with special needs and English as a Second Language. Teachers had spent the last ten years bargaining and accepting smaller or no salary increases because they believed that learning conditions were more important, and *POOF!* all of that went down the tube. The public education system has been deteriorating ever since, and even universities now are seeing the difference in first year university students who have been affected by these changes. With no guarantees on working and learning conditions, here are only four examples of the deterioration of education in Vancouver alone:
* At my school, there is a grade 7 class at my school with SEVEN ministry designated kids in it (ie. special needs). There is no support worker. The teacher is on her own, trying to meet the highly individual needs of these kids AND provide a quality education to the other 23 kids in her class.
* Also at my school, there is a boy in grade 1 who has a ministry designation and should have been receiving support from day one of this school year. Everything was in place last year and was ready to go. His teacher has been fighting for a support worker for a month and still has not received one, because the workers are assigned to other students who need more support time than they have been funded for.
* There are classes in Vancouver that have 46 students in them because class size limitations now are only based on a district average. These classes are trying to operate in classrooms built for 28, which used to be the limit.
* Or how about the special class for kids with severe behaviour disorders at a Vancouver high school? It used to have a limit of 12, with a flexibility factor that could go up to 15, and there was a full time, specially trained support worker and a full time youth worker assigned to that class. Now some poor relatively new teacher 'teaches' this class of twenty three students with only a part time education assistant.
The contract that the government ripped up would have prevented every one of these situations. And to top it all off, the government then made it illegal to bargain for those working and learning conditions back. This leads into the second issue in this strike.
Issue #2: The restoration of bargaining rights.
Teachers want the right to be able to bargain for working and learning conditions, which is currently illegal to do. This has become the most important issue now with the introduction of Bill 12, which essentially imposes a contract by extending the current imposed contract till June 2006, thus ordering teachers back to work, and says, "There. Now everything is all better." (If you read it, check out section 3 that basically negates the Labour Relations Code. Nice. Or the explanatory note at the bottom. Laughable!) Even before Bill 12, the second issue at the bargaining table was the reinstatement of bargaining rights. In a democratic society, people have the right to bargain for the conditions of their employment. Since 1993, teachers have not had a negotiated contract. Rather, successive governments have imposed contract after contract. This time round, after 18 months of bargaining, the government will not budge at all on any issue brought forward. It's clear that they are not going to bargain, and teachers are sort of up against a wall. Bill 12 came out only three days into the first phase of job action, which only involved withdrawal of supervision and administrative paperwork. It was an extremely heavy handed move. The government is not willing to talk, and just hides behind legislation. Teachers just want to be able to negotiate a contract. I've seen signs all over that say "Communicate, don't Legislate," which pretty much sums up the feeling.
Issue #3: A fair and equitable salary increase.
Yes, the third issue is about money. For some reason, any time a teacher mentions salary in negotiations, it takes precedence and everyone goes, "Oh, they just want more money. Those greedy teachers." Snarky remarks about summers "off" come up (by the way, our paychecks also get a two month vacation), as well as all kinds of other nasty things. But the fact is, in the last ten years, teacher's salaries have only increased by an average of 1% per year, which is not even enough to reflect inflation. Members of Parliament's salaries have increased an average of 3.6% per year over ten years. To break it down, from 1996 to 2001, teachers received a total of a 3.2% increase. From 2001 to 2004, the government allowed teachers an increase of 2.5% per year for three years, BUT only provided funding for the first year. This meant that school districts had to make up the difference. How did they do that? Close schools, raise class size limits (remember? There aren't limits on class sizes anymore), and lay off teachers. Some schools have even gone to four day weeks or nine day fortnights because there isn't enough funding to operate five days a week. Any increase to salary has come at a huge cost to kids. This should not be the case. Teachers are asking for a fair and equitable increase in salary that would bring BC teachers salaries closer in line with negotiated salaries in Alberta and Ontario and would help meett he rising cost of living. The government has had a strict zero zero zero policy for workers in the public sector, yet they have just given billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and are boasting a 1.5 billion dollar surplus this year. Yet they keep saying "No, no no."
The way the governement has gone about "union busting" in this province, teachers have many unions behind us. There are tons of public sector contracts that are coming due for re-negotiating in the spring, and they are not going to settle for zero zero zero either. This srtike could get very big very fast if other unions decide to stand up with teachers and protest the way the government is dealing with contracts. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a provincial general strike on October 17, the day of a massive labour rally at hte parliament buildings in Victoria.
Personally, I feel like this strike/political protest is a necessary action. Teachers just don't have a choice when faced with a government that tears up contracts, won't negotiate, ignores UN International Labour Organization recommendations, and legislates away Supreme Court rulings saying that what they are doing is wrong. Ha ha, believe it or not, I'm NOT an extreme "Rah Rah Union" person, but this situation is really bad.
And so off I go for picket duty, hoping things are resolved quickly so I can just get back to doing my job.