The labour unrest that greeted students when they returned to school in September, continued as they began the new year.
Chilliwack teachers, unhappy with the pace of negotiations with the BC Public School Employers Association, had already cut back on some administrative duties, like noon-hour supervision.
In February, teachers vowed to stop writing report cards, leaving that responsibility to school administrators.
They took their message to the streets, protesting the B.C. Liberal government’s introduction of Bill 22 – legislation, they said would strip the union of hard-won bargaining rights. More than 250 teachers lined Vedder Road in an effort to protest the government’s zero per cent wage offer, and seek public support for their work-to-rule campaign.
However, the dispute erupted into a full-blown strike in March.
Chilliwack teachers joined public educators from across the province in a three-day walk out. They said they were angered and insulted by legislation that extended the current teacher contract terms until June 2013, while imposing the government’s two-year “net zero” wage mandate and a new teacher evaluation and selection process.
That anger grew when it was learned that on the first day of the strike, Premier Christy Clark was in Chilliwack, visiting a private Christian school. That visit was postponed when teachers descended on the school to protest the legislation.
In April, the dispute escalated again when teachers voted to withdraw from all extracurricular activities. The move affected field trips, drama productions and athletic events.
Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Katharin Midzain said the decision was a difficult one. However, “There are so many things in [Bill 22] that are just so potentially damaging. What will happen in classrooms is so long term that we need to take a stand and it will be a long one.”
But predictions that the labour dispute would drag on into September proved wrong. In June the two sides made the surprising announcement that they had reached a tentative agreement.
The contract was essentially a roll-over from the teachers’ last contract, which had expired a year earlier. Although there were some improvements to teacher benefits, there was no wage increases, or changes in class size and composition – both of which were contentious issues early on in negotiations.
The current contract now expires in June of 2013, setting up another round of negotiations.