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'Optimism' as teacher strike vote looms

Chilliwack Teachers
Chilliwack Teachers' Association president Clint Johnston
— image credit: Times - file

The Chilliwack school board and local teachers’ union expressed vague optimism and few specifics in light of a looming provincewide teacher strike vote next week.

Citing major concession demands by government, an unfair salary offer, and a deliberately confrontational attempt to reverse the recent BC Supreme Court decision on class size, composition, and staffing levels, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) announced Tuesday teachers will vote on job action March 4 to 6.

If teachers approve a strike, they would have 90 days to activate some sort of job action, but the BCTF has said that wouldn’t mean school closures, teachers walking away from extracurricular activities or a disruption to report cards or communication with parents—yet.

But all those could come—as they did two years ago—if no progress is made at the provincial bargaining table.

“When you vote for a strike, legally you are voting to allow your organization to undertake any kind of action it wants,” Chilliwack Teachers’ Association (CTA) president Clint Johnston told the Times.

He said he is hopeful, however, that all job action can be avoided even if a strike is approved by teachers next week.

“We are eternal optimists and we hope to conclude a deal at the table,” he said, “and we’re optimistic that, if the government learns the lesson we believe the courts are trying tell it, which is that they need to bargain in good faith at the table, that we can have a deal within 90 days, and we can walk away without any action ever impacting children or students.”

His sentiments were echoed by school board chair Walt Krahn.

“I believe that both parties want resolution,” he said. “I can’t believe for a moment that both parties are pleased with what has unfolded over the last several weeks, and I want to believe that bright minds will seek resolve. It is ultimately my belief that we will have resolution, so students will not be affected.”

Krahn said he is in daily communication with provincial employer groups but wouldn’t elaborate on what the Chilliwack board’s message to its provincial counterparts has been because it is “part of the negotiations.”

Johnston was equally tight lipped about the union’s planned job action if no progress is made at the bargaining table, saying only that it would be an “innocuous start,” as far as students and parents were concerned.

“It’s aimed at creating headaches for administration,” he said. “We try to use the channel up method. You have your point of contact, which unfortunately for us in this province is schools; it’s the teachers and the principals, and we try to create as much impact as we can on those administrators and hopefully it filters up to the top, that it’s causing problems for them and motivates them to come to a deal.”

Since school administrators are expected to hold their ground, however, its unclear how much impact this stage will have on provincial bargaining.

“Our administrators are strong administrators and they will do the best they can to cope with some of these extenuating circumstances,” Krahn said.

Although the specifics of the BCTF’s plan may not be public, one thing is sure, according to Johnston—if no progress is made at the bargaining table, it will eventually impact students.

“We try to delay as long as we can to stop that effect from spilling over onto the students, but inevitably it’s going to,” he said.

 

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