With less than a month to go before school is supposed to start, teachers in Chilliwack have once again ramped up protesting efforts.
Tuesday morning, a group of about 30 teachers made their presence known outside the office of Chilliwack MLA John Martin.
Two more protests are scheduled for Aug. 19 outside Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness’s office and another on Aug. 26 at Cottonwood Mall. Chilliwack Teachers’ Association will also have a booth set up for the last two nights of Party in the Park on Aug. 15 and 22.
“We want to put pressure on our local MLAs; they have the ability to move this forward,” said Chilliwack secondary school teacher Rob Bogunovic.
Strategically, the Chilliwack Teachers’ Union chose to demonstrate outside Martin’s office from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., during high commuter time.
The first rain of the month did not deter them.
“Teachers are still very keen and dedicated to this movement,” said CTA president Clint Johnston. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and this is our interface with the public.”
Sardis secondary teacher Cecelia Griffiths stood on the front lines with ‘Standing up for BC Students’ emblazoned on her t-shirt. She also wore buttons with the slogans ‘Proud to be a Teacher’ and ‘Teachers Want a Fair Deal’.
Griffiths has been a teacher for 35 years, specializing in special needs.
“I work with the kids who have the most severe disabilities in the building,” she said. “What I’ve seen in my 35 years, the level of service we provide now isn’t even triage anymore. Special needs students are not getting the supports they need.”
Grade 6 teacher Leora Polsam hopes a fair deal will be achieved, but “our hopes have been dashed so many times,” she’s losing faith.
“I’m here for that reason,” she said, pointing to a sign that read ‘Invest in Students of BC.’
Bogunovic doesn’t believe the strike will end well for his cohort.
“Some teachers have tried to be optimistic, but I’ve believed all along this will end with legislated contracts imposed on us or the government will essentially bankrupt teachers so they have to go back,” he said.
“We haven’t even been offered net zero. Very straight math will show what we’ve been offered is -2 per cent over six years.”
The last offer from BC Public School Employers’ Association, in May, was seven per cent over six years.
Last Friday, BC Teachers’ Federation and BCPSEA were back at the bargaining table for the first time since talks broke down in June. Negotiations are expected to resume this week.
Both sides have been tight lipped about last week’s meeting. Still, school district officials are hopeful.
“Certainly, this is a very unsettling time for the entire community, and we are very concerned, but I have to remain optimistic,” said Walt Krahn, chair of Chilliwack board of education. “I have to remain hopeful because I believe, as an elected official, it is our responsibility to be positive advocates for student success. We need to remain focused on student learning and look for a resolution.”
Chilliwack board of education has sent two letters to the Ministry of Education, one last fall, and one in June. Letters have also been sent to BCTF and BCPSEA. As well, Krahn and vice-chair Silvia Dyck have met with both local MLAs to encourage them to push for both parties to settle.
Chilliwack MLA John Martin was not available for comment prior to press deadline.