B.C. teachers have clarified how much some of their demands will cost after Education Minister Peter Fassbender complained that it would be impossible to break the stalemate as long as all of the union’s proposals continued to have “blanks in them where there should be dollar figures.”
The two sides returned to the bargaining table Tuesday and Wednesday, after talks had stalled on Monday due a flurry of allegations hurled from both sides.
The BCTF is now filling in some of the blanks in its most recent proposal. The workload fund, to be used for hiring new teachers so that issues around class size and composition can be addressed, would cost $225-million a year.
The retroactive grievances fund would cost another $225-million over the life of the contract. In exchange, the BCTF would withdraw its grievances relating to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that has ordered the government to reinstate provisions around class sizes and staffing levels that were stripped from teachers’ collective agreements in 2002. The money would pay for teachers’ preparation time, on-call instructors and improvements to health benefits.
Teachers started limited job action in April, ramped up to rotating walkouts last month and began a full-scale strike on Tuesday, leaving little hope that classes will resume before the end of the school year on June 27.
Talks between the two sides soured on Monday after BCTF president Jim Iker accused the government of moving backward on its wage offer. Tuesday’s negotiations were positive, according to an e-mail sent to union members.
Meanwhile, a number of union locals are digging into their pockets to help feed cash-strapped teachers, who have lost three days’ pay due to rotating walkouts, had their wages slashed by 10 per cent and are now beginning a full-scale strike without any strike pay.
The Surrey Teachers’ Association started a food bank at its office Wednesday, after seeing overwhelming demand for the $75 grocery store gift cards it started handing out last week.
The union local released $5,000 worth of the vouchers last week. They were gone within days, says local president Jennifer Wadge. A second batch worth another $5,000 was snatched up within hours on Monday.
The gift certificates were paid for with donations from other teachers in the local, which contains more than 5,000 members in total. Seven union officers have also been contributing a portion of their pay – equal to the amount that teachers have lost during the labour disute – to the association’s coffers.
The Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association is also offering food vouchers and cash to members who find themselves struggling to make ends meet. In 2005, when teachers were on the picket lines for 10 days, the local gave out a total of $18,000.
“We’re anticipating that if this carries on we could double that,” said local president Debbie Pawluk. “It’s been a long time since there’s been a salary increase, and the cost of living in Vancouver has sky-rocketed … rental accommodation and housing prices have really pushed some people right to the very edge.”