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B.C. teachers ‘prepared’ for full-scale strike without pay, union president says

About two dozen students rallied in Vancouver, Wednesday, June 4, 2014, as the dispute between the government and the province’s teachers continued.

Tamsyn Burgmann/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. teachers say an almost empty war chest isn't likely to influence how they vote next week on whether to escalate their job action to a full-scale strike.

Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said he remains confident teachers will approve a complete work stoppage when they cast their ballots on Monday and Tuesday, even though they won't get their $50-per-day strike pay beyond next week.

Teachers have been out of the classrooms on a rotating basis for one day in each of the past two weeks and will be on the picket lines for a third day next week.

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"Not getting $50 a day to be on the picket lines is irrelevant compared to the larger issues at play in the public education system," said Melissa McCleary, who teaches a split Grade 4 and 5 class and was walking the picket line in front of Elsie Roy Elementary School in Vancouver on Friday.

Jacqueline Sheppet, a math teacher at Lord Byng Secondary School in Vancouver, said she won't be voting in favour of a strike – but not because of the lack of strike pay.

"I don't know of any teacher who's ever factored in that $50 a day," she said, adding that teachers often dip into their own wallets to pay for classroom supplies.

"Given that [teachers] open their purses for everything else in the classroom without getting any money back, it's not even on the radar.

"My reason for not agreeing to the strike is completely unrelated to getting paid. It's mainly that I believe kids should be in school."

Ms. Sheppet said she expects to be outvoted and thinks a strike mandate is likely to get approved.

"I completely understand why more teachers would be in favour of a strike," she said.

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"Teachers who have been teaching longer than me, teachers who have seen this degradation of funding, they're fed up. … I'll probably get to that point myself if it doesn't change.

Mr. Iker said legal costs have drained the BCTF finances.

The union has been caught in a protracted battle in the B.C. Supreme Court over trying to reinstate provisions related to class sizes and staffing levels that were stripped from teachers' contracts in 2002.

The government is currently appealing the most recent ruling, which orders the provisions to be reinstated – a move the government says would cost taxpayers $2-billion.

"We have to look at why we're in this position," Mr. Iker said. "It's the continual litigation with this government. Twice now, we've had to go to the Supreme Court. Twice now, the government has violated the constitutional rights of our members when they illegally stripped important provisions for our students, which are our working conditions, from our collective agreements."

The government, meanwhile, has imposed a partial lockout that prevents teachers from being at work more than 45 minutes before or after class time, and has docked their pay by 10 per cent – a move that the Labour Relations Board has ruled does not contravene any labour laws.

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