Terrace has received a plaque commemorating the then-illegal teachers’ strike over 35 years ago that jumpstarted the decision to unionize and demand fairer working conditions.
Around 17 people and several teachers’ union activists gathered Oct. 5 around the plaque mounted onto a rock outside the Terrace Sportsplex. The plaque is one of 19 given out by the BC Labour Heritage Centre honouring the history of the labour movement in the province.
The 1981 protest was sparked after two Terrace principals, who were then part of the Terrace District Teachers’ Association, were forcibly demoted and transferred. Until that time, teachers could only bargain for salary and benefits with school boards.
“There was nothing in the contracts that had anything to do with transfers, promotion, demotion, or job evaluation,” said Mike Wen, Terrace District Teachers Union president. “Because this was so unfair, the only thing the teachers could do was go on strike.”
The protest forced the employer to come to the table and negotiate the very first language in B.C. for teachers around personnel practices. This included procedures around hiring, teacher evaluation, firing, and eventually led to future full-collective bargaining agreements.
“It was important for [the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation] because it was the first time that something other than salary got negotiated into a contract for teachers in this province,” Wen said.
President of the local union at the time, Donald “Wayne” Wyatt, remembers when the strike began, six years before B.C. teachers won the legal right to do so.
“I got a phone call one afternoon after school, and the teachers of Caledonia told me they were walking out the next day. It didn’t take long, it was one of those issues where you reach the last straw,” he said.”We had tried all the nice things and when you run out of nice things, you fold up your tents and go home or you take the next step.”
A settlement was reached soon after, the two principles were reinstated, and a personnel practices contract was negotiated between the teachers and the local district the following year.
“That thin edge of the wedge in Terrace and a number of other locals in the late 70s, early 80s is what moved us towards full collective bargaining with contracts that cover everything you think a contract should cover,” said Rae Figursky, a member on the BCTF executive committee.
“It was one of those moments in time that started the momentum for the province.”