Teachers in Terrace say they will picket throughout the summer, as long as the ongoing dispute between the province and teacher’s union remains unsettled.
“We’re going to be picketing wherever we can and whenever we can,” said veteran teacher Frances Gosse, speaking outside the Coast Mountains School District office last Friday, July 4. “We’re off work, we don’t have pay at the moment and we’re having a picket rotation.”
After months of job action and lockouts, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the provincial bargaining arm BC Public Service Employees’ Association (BCPSEA) wanted to reach an agreement on a new teacher contract by June 30. That date now passed, the two sides last week did agree on a mediator, BC Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kelleher.
But after meeting with both sides, Kelleher concluded mediation “is not indicated at this time”, read a joint statement released July 2.
In some school districts where limited summer school is going ahead, teachers will be picketing those locations, indicated BCTF president Jim Iker in a news conference last week. But in Terrace, where summer school is not offered, teachers will be doing shift rotations in front of the school board office and at various schools throughout the district.
“The shifts are three hours and we’ll be told what to do on an ongoing basis,” said Gosse. “Some people have prior engagements and commitments that they can’t get out of but those of us who are here want to see this through.”
As long as picketers are in front of school district buildings, maintenance and other workers represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees are not able to enter, which is delaying routine summer maintenance work, confirmed school board chair Art Erasmus.
He said it’s too early to talk about contingency plans for work on schools which needs to be done, saying that the district is going to see what happens between the two sides over the next couple of weeks.
The BCTF has said it will make negotiators available throughout the summer to work towards an agreement, but the two sides continue to remain far apart on wages, benefits and class size and composition costs.
The BC Supreme Court has twice ruled that the provincial government violated teachers’ constitutional rights when it removed class size and composition language from the teachers’ contract.
The province has appealed that ruling, and the BC Court of Appeals is expected to rule on that this fall.
BCPSEA has said the union’s position on class size and composition would cost $1.67 billion – a figure the BCTF disagrees with.
With files from Caitlin Clow