There isn't enough cash in the coffers to give B.C. teachers their strike pay after the next week, internal union communications show.
Teachers have been getting $50 a day for showing up at the picket lines during the rotating strikes, which have seen each school district closed for one day each week. But the Collective Bargaining Defence Fund has just about run dry, according to an internal website communication to B.C. Teachers' Federation members.
That means teachers won't receive any strike pay if they continue the rotating walkouts past next week or if they ramp up their job action to a complete work stoppage, as the union has threatened. BCTF members will vote next Monday and Tuesday on whether to proceed to a full-fledged strike.
The BCTF's finances have been drained by a protracted legal battle that has dragged on since 2002, when a previous Liberal government stripped provisions allowing teachers to set class sizes and staffing levels from their contracts. A pair of court rulings have ordered the government to reinstate the provisions, but the government says returning class sizes and staffing to pre-2002 levels would cost taxpayers $2-billion. The government is appealing the latest ruling.
"The impact on the CBDF after 12 years of defending teachers' rights on so many fronts and such a prolonged struggle to make gains since the contract stripping in 2002 has been significant," the communication reads.
It also notes that more strike days, albeit unpaid, may be necessary to reach a collective agreement with government negotiators: "There is no doubt that the costs associated with continually fending off attacks on teacher rights and the collective agreement are high, but the cost of not doing so are far worse."
A spokesman for the union declined to comment directly when asked if the strike fund was running out. He said information would be provided to teachers before a strike vote is held.
The BCTF announced Wednesday its plan to hold a strike vote after the Labour Relations Board ruled that the government was within its rights to dock teacher pay by 10 per cent. The wage cuts are meant to make up for teachers' lighter workloads during the job action, which includes rotating walkouts, refusing to communicate with administrators and not supervising students outside of class.
There is also a partial lockout in place, imposed by the government, which prevents teachers from going to work more than 45 minutes before class or staying more than 45 minutes after.
Despite the labour strife, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender is promising students that their final exams will be marked – even if the province's teachers escalate their rotating strikes to a full-scale work stoppage in the coming weeks.
"We will ensure that every graduate will be able to complete their required exams," Mr. Fassbender said Thursday, adding that students who are not graduating but also have critical exams will also get their marks.
"I don't have the answer on how that's all going to be done. Our staff is working on that right now. The [B.C. Public School Employers' Association] is looking at all of the options. But the commitment, without any hesitation, is they will be able to finish their year. … We are going to make sure that happens."
Mr. Fassbender said he is "profoundly disappointed" by the union's decision to hold a strike vote, but he noted that the government is in no hurry to legislate the teachers back to work.
"We've had a cycle for decades in this province of labour disruption and then legislation and then court challenges, and we really need to change that cycle," he said.
"We can't keep doing this to the students, to the parents, to the teachers. So we are not going to rush to any legislation. … If adults can sit at a table and work together, we can find a negotiated settlement. That is our goal."
The teachers' federation reduced its wage demands by one percentage point on Tuesday. The BCTF is now asking for a 9.75-per-cent pay raise over four years, not including a cost-of-living allowance. However, the government says when the pay raise is compounded over four years and the cost-of-living allowance is added, the total wage increase would be 14.7 per cent.
"It's not enough," Mr. Fassbender said Thursday. "They need to be willing to move further."
The employers' association is offering an increase of 7.3 per cent over six years.