B.C. teachers won't suspend strike, union president says
Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014 8:43AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 3, 2014 8:42PM EDT
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is urging the province’s teachers to suspend their strike and return to the bargaining table with a “realistic” proposal so that 500,000 public school students can get back to class.
But B.C. Teachers’ Federation President Jim Iker said the union has no plans to suspend the strike.
“We need government to enter into full-scale mediation. That’s something they haven’t done,” he said Wednesday.
Clark said her government will “stand firm” until negotiators settle an agreement that’s fair both to the teachers and the taxpayers
“It’s just not right, I don’t think, to demand a $5,000 signing bonus that no one else in the public sector has received,” Clark told reporters Wednesday.
“Teachers do deserve a raise. There’s no question about that,” she said. “But to be fair, we have to make sure that it’s one that reflects the work that we’ve already done with the other half of the public service that have already settled."
It was the first time Clark spoke to the media about the strike since it began in June. Previously, she weighed in on the issue through social media.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, the premier said she understands how difficult the strike has been for students, parents and teachers.
"I strongly agree with (Education) Minister Fassbender that we have to stand firm in order to end the strike and get an agreement at the table that is in the best interest of kids,” she wrote.
Clark’s latest comments come days after children's singer Raffi Cavoukian called Clark out on Twitter, accusing her government of taking a "bully" stance in its failed negotiations.
Iker said the government had all summer “to get this done,” but no progress was made.
Strike could last weeks: expert
Meanwhile, B.C. families hoping for a quick end to the strike may be disappointed, as the labour disruption could drag on for weeks, according to one education expert.
Prof. E. Wayne Ross from the U.B.C. Institute for Critical Education Studies warned that the teachers' strike could last up to a month.
Ross said neither side is ready to turn to binding arbitration, and it appears that the government strategy is to break the union.
"They know that they can wait the teachers out, and put individual teachers and teachers' families in a financial bind," Ross said.
While the province and the teachers' union talked briefly over the phone on Tuesday, there are no plans for any formal talks. Hopes for an agreement came to an end over the weekend, after days of mediated talks broke down without any resolution.
B.C.'s Education Minister Peter Fassbender blamed the teachers union, and its demands, for the strike.
"The BCTF basically said 'Give us what we want and that will be the solution,'" he said. "That's unrealistic and unaffordable."
The government said it won't give in to the "unrealistic" demands of the union, which include new wage demands and a $5,000 signing bonus. It said it also wouldn't negotiate the union's main issue of class sizes and composition until the two sides are much closer on the issue of cash.
Clark also said Wednesday that teachers want extra days off and unlimited massage benefits, but Iker challenged those comments.
Iker said that when the numbers are crunched, there's a difference of only three dollars a day per student.
"Mr. Fassbender is out there saying that we have to make more concessions. Well, what about government? Do we need some faith from government that they actually want to get a deal?" he said.
Meanwhile, teacher Troy Hardwick told CTV Vancouver that he and his colleagues weren’t happy to be outside their classrooms on the first day of school.
"Nobody wants to be out here. None of us want to be out here," Hardwick said.
And teachers weren’t the only ones protesting.
One group of students braved the rain to launch their own protest outside MLA Suzanne Anton's office.
"Today I'm standing outside the office waiting for school to start," student Joseph Graff said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Scott Roberts and files from The Canadian Press