Chilliwack teachers took to the streets Monday to raise awareness around their fight for public education.
For three hours, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., approximately 200 teachers rallied along Vedder Road and Luckakuck with signs explaining the union’s side and hopes for supportive honks.
They weren’t the only ones.
After months of job action and ongoing clashes with the provincial government, teachers across the province imposed a day of action.
“We need to do something now to make more public awareness of the fact we’re still in this fight,” said Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Katharin Midzain.
“People need to know that public education is at a very critical point of dismantling.”
Monday’s day of action came on the heels of the B.C. Education Ministry announcing last Thursday it would be setting in motion legislation to end the strike. Minister of Education George Abbott made the announcement following a report by the government’s fact-finder, Trevor Hughes, who concluded it “very unlikely” the BC Teachers’ Federation would reach a voluntary agreement with the BC School Employers’ Association.
The report sited 78 face-to-face bargaining sessions, and of more than 1,000 issues on the table, only nine were agreed upon.
If legislation is drawn up, a net-zero contract would be imposed on the union.
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon spoke on the issue following a Chilliwack Rotary meeting Friday.
He said the teachers’ union has been told, “Look, you’re coming off a 16 per cent wage increase, you’ve got very generous benefits that most in the private sector would love to have, and we’re just asking them to do what every other public sector union has signed onto, which is a zero increase, no net increase, over two years. We think that is very reasonable.”
“The fact of the matter is we’ve spent one year and over 75 face-to-face meetings trying to get to some basis to have an agreement,” said Falcon. “Unfortunately, we’ve made absolutely no progress and therefore we’re left with no alternative really but to now consider the legislative option.”
In 2005, when the government issued back-to-work legislation, teachers responded with a province-wide strike lasting 10 school days.
The teachers’ union has requested “unbiased” mediation on all issues, including wages, class size and composition.
“In this budget [released last Tuesday] the government has increased funding to private schools by 0.7 per cent, but public schools by only 0.4 per cent,” said Midzain. “That doesn’t even keep up with inflation, so really it’s a net decrease. They’re giving more funding to independent schools – what does that tell you about their priorities?”
(The way government funding to independent schools works is based on a classification scale that provides private schools with either 50 per cent less than what public schools receive per student or 65 per cent less.)
As part of Monday’s day of action, teachers worked a “bell to bell” day, arriving at school just before the first bell and leaving school shortly after the last bell.
Any extracurricular activities that could be rescheduled, such as practices, rehearsals, and even games in some cases, were rescheduled.
As well, during the lunch hour, teachers at all schools held union meetings to get up-to-date information on negotiations, as well as to show that teachers get full lunch hours too.
“The public needs to know that school teachers tend to be a quiet lot and we’re not willing to be contained anymore,” said Midzain.
The union has scheduled a province-wide strike vote for Tuesday and Wednesday.