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B.C. teachers’ union to escalate strike action in effort to speed negotiations

Striking B.C. teachers at the Vancouver Art Gallery during a noon time rally, June 16, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia teachers' union, intent on getting a deal to end a summer-long strike that threatens to go into the fall, are vowing to step up protests against government MLAs and school boards as part of an effort to kick-start bargaining.

Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF), delivered the message in a speech to delegates at a summer leadership conference in Kamloops. MLAs have already faced picketing at their constituency offices, but Mr. Iker on Sunday said it was time to escalate those measures.

"[This week], pickets will be up in full force across the province," Mr. Iker said. "We've asked our locals to ramp up the pressure on school boards and local MLAs."

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Mr. Iker did not elaborate on specific tactics, and he was not available for further comment.

The union leader told delegates that teachers must "target those Liberals MLAs who are uncomfortable with how their government had been sitting on their hands," noting the need to press them on why Premier Christy Clark's government is not negotiating.

The chair of the B.C. Liberal caucus said the BCTF plans were misguided.

"It's unfortunate that the Teachers' Federation seems to be more concerned with pressure tactics than with sitting down and negotiating a long-term agreement to bring stability to our classrooms," Michelle Stilwell, MLA for Parksville-Qualicum, said in a statement responding to a call for comment.

Ms. Stilwell, echoing Ms. Clark, said teachers deserve a raise, but it has to be "fair, affordable" and consistent with agreements signed, so far, by 150,000 other public servants.

After three weeks of rotating strikes, the union and its roughly 40,000 teachers launched a full strike on June 17. Classes are scheduled to resume on Sept. 2, but there's little sign of bargaining-table progress that would allow that to happen.

Parents across the province are under pressure to make alternate arrangements for their children. The Liberal government has announced it will pay parents $40 per school-aged child for each day of school missed during the strike – a bid to help offset child-care costs. Some Vancouver-region community centres are planning day camps for students under the assumption no deal will be reached by Sept. 2.

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Negotiators have only met twice this summer, most recently in early August.

In his prepared text, Mr. Iker chides Education Minister Peter Fassbender for his "incredibly unhelpful" move to talk to the media in what the BCTF sees as a violation of a media blackout.

A spokesperson for the ministry on Sunday said it would have no immediate comment on Mr. Iker's remarks, though Mr. Fassbender would be available this week. The government has said it will not legislate teachers back to work.

Mr. Iker said government should enter mediation to end the strike before next week's scheduled launch of the school year, suggesting government has been averse to participate in such a process under veteran mediator Vince Ready.

Mr. Ready did not respond Sunday to queries, but an Aug. 14 joint statement between public-school employers and the teachers' union said he was monitoring the dispute, though he would not launch full mediation until he concluded the process could be productive.

Mr. Iker said he was willing to compromise to get a deal, which he deemed to be within reach. "My biggest hope is that I have to rush to the airport, get on a plane and head back to Vancouver because the government has finally agreed to let mediation go ahead," he said.

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He called for bargaining-table action on Monday. "Let's get a deal done."

Mr. Iker said that, beyond the strike, teachers will be focusing on this fall's municipal elections. "Right across this province, teachers need to take an active role in electing school-board trustees who will be advocates for public education." He cited Vancouver's Patti Bacchus as a model of the trustee needed.

Teachers began the strike two weeks before the end of the school year. They have been seeking higher wages, smaller class sizes, more specialist teachers and changes to allow for more one-on-one time with students.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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