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Teacher strike closes Chilliwack schools next Thursday

All Chilliwack public schools will be closed to students next Thursday as part of BCTF job action.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation announced Tuesday it would be starting one-day rotating strikes at schools around the province on Monday.

In Chilliwack, that means teachers will be picketing at all school district facilities, including schools, the school board office, and maintenance yard throughout the day on Thursday, May 29.

As well, École La Vérendrye school, located on Lickman Road, which is part of School District 93, will also be closed.

Chilliwack Teachers' Association president Clint Johnston said the strike is necessary.

"We've been at the bargaining table for 16 months," he said. "I hope people see that for what it is, a true effort to resolve things without involving other parties. That's what we want to do, we want to sit at the table and bargain in good faith. But unfortunately, what we've seen is basically a stalemate."

The escalated job action comes on the heels of BCTF rejecting the offer of a $1,200 signing bonus for an agreement by the end of the school year.

BCTF president Jim Iker said Tuesday the bonus doesn't make up for the government's wage offer of 6.5% over six years. A simultaneous threat to cut teacher wages 5% or more because of strike action is "just so disrespectful, so unnecessary, and we'll be dealing with it at the Labour Relations Board," Iker said.

Unless there is some compromise on major issues, one-day strikes with picket lines will be staged at one group of school districts in each of the first four days next week, with teachers returning to work across the province on Friday, May 30.

Iker reiterated the union's position that more pay, more teachers and a return to contract language guaranteeing class size and special needs support are needed to reach a settlement.

Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the province's 60 school districts, informed the union last week that a 5% pay cut will be put in place "soon" in response to the first phase of strike action.

The BCTF began work-to-rule action in April, refusing supervision outside classrooms and communication with school management. Rotating strikes were also authorized by the BCTF membership in a March vote, and beginning to shut down schools could result in an effort to cut teacher pay by 10%.

Cameron said last week the union's latest wage demand amounts to 15.9% over four years, far beyond what other provincial public service unions have received. The BCTF maintains its wage proposal is 13.25% over four years, including cost-of-living increases based on each year's inflation rate.

Unlike the last job action in 2012, this one has been approved by the Labour Relations Board under essential services. That means teachers can picket at the schools, CUPE will not be working, and parents will be required to find childcare for the day.

~ with files from Tom Fletcher

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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