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B.C. teachers considering one-day walkouts

B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker speaks to reporters after a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 4, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is preparing for one-day rotating strikes as part of a three-stage action plan that could escalate to a full-scale walkout, says a union document to teachers marked confidential and obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The strategy is similar to one outlined in a document the B.C. Liberals distributed on Wednesday that the union has dismissed as a fake. The government said its document was leaked by a teacher and denied there was any fabrication.

A three-day strike vote is due to end on Thursday and is expected to muster overwhelming support from teachers after a year of negotiations marred by pointed rhetoric and two sides that seem unwilling to compromise. As recently as last week, union leaders said negotiations had yielded no common ground.

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The action plan approved by the union's leadership shows a first stage in which teachers would minimize work hours outside of school and cut off communications with administrators. A second stage would involve rotating one-day walkouts staggered across the province's districts that would begin if "no significant progress" is made between the province and the union, according to the internal document.

The third stage – province-wide walkouts – would have to be approved in a vote by the union's members. Teachers would need to consult the provincial labour relations board and lay out their wider strike plan for approval.

On Thursday, union president Jim Iker did not deny that the federation is considering one-day walkouts.

"Any job action we will take very seriously, and it will depend on progress at the negotiating table," he said.

With the two-week spring break starting next Monday, no job action is expected to be called before March 24.

The document the government released on Wednesday in Victoria was substantially different from the one obtained by The Globe and Mail, and contained a timeline for beginning one-day walkouts.

Mr. Iker denied the authenticity of the government's document and called it a "political tactic" during negotiations.

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"It's interesting that the government is handing out this document on the day that we are bargaining," he said.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the suggestion that the document was written by his officials was "ludicrous" and maintained it was from a reliable source.

"I have mixed messages," the minister said. "The president of the BCTF, Mr. Iker, has said that the strike vote is to put pressure on us, which I appreciate, but when I see a document that lays out a strategy for disruption and ultimately a full walkout, that concerns me."

Since a court ruling in late January ordered the government to reinstate smaller class sizes and restore staffing levels to those of 2002, both sides have struggled to agree on anything.

The government has appealed the decision and its negotiators have so far ruled out applying the court ruling during talks, arguing that it could cost up to $1-billion.

Negotiators have offered salary increases of 0 to 1 per cent over the next five years. The teachers' union has yet to provide a counterproposal.

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Based on the union's public complaints about the salary gap between B.C. teachers and those in other provinces, it is expected to seek raises of more than 20 per cent over five years. With Premier Christy Clark focused on maintaining the province's thin $184-million budget surplus, that request would not be well received.

With reports from Justine Hunter and Gary Mason

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