Cash-strapped teachers who have so far lost four weeks' pay to the strike will be able to apply for a loan from their union after workers from across the province agreed to inject $8.5-million into the union's hardship fund.
The B.C. Federation of Labour on Wednesday announced it would lend the B.C. Teachers' Federation $8-million. The B.C. Nurses' Union (BCNU) topped that up with a $500,000 gift – not a loan. BC Hydro workers are also voting on whether to lend the union another $100,000.
"This has been difficult," said Nigel Reedman, a graphic design teacher at Vancouver Technical School. "We have to get by on smaller things. Even food, we can't buy as much."
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The loans and donated money will go into a general hardship fund from which teachers facing financial difficulties can apply for a loan. Smaller amounts from the fund – say $100 for groceries – are sometimes distributed without the expectation of them being paid back. The union's executive committee will decide how the money is accessed and distributed, said spokesman Rich Overgaard. The money will not go toward strike pay.
At the announcement Wednesday, outside of Vancouver Technical School in East Vancouver, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said the federation – which represents 54 unions in B.C., including some from the private sector – is proud to stand with teachers.
"Again, we say: It's not going to be money that will end this dispute; no one will be starved out here," he told a crowd as passing cars honked in support. "It will be Christy Clark who must end this dispute by going to arbitration and solving the problems."
Some of the unions that contributed include the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, the Hospital Employees' Union, United Steelworkers and Unifor.
BCNU president Gayle Duteil said the union's provincial council was unanimous in its desire to make a sizable contribution.
"We believe this significant sum will help teachers stand strong against a government trying to bleed them dry," she said in a statement.
The BCNU is still in contract negotiations with the provincial government, and Finance Minister Mike de Jong says he is worried that giving in to the teachers' wage demands would inflate the cost of settling with other public sector unions such as the nurses.
Meanwhile, the union representing about 1,800 BC Hydro workers is voting via mail-in ballots on whether to set aside a $100,000 loan for the teachers' union.
Local 378 of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union says a fund to support its own job action currently stands at $200,000 but a new contract has recently been negotiated for BC Hydro members so they won't be needing the money any time soon. The voting deadline is Sept. 22.
With such wide support from other unions, some have raised the idea of a general strike. Asked about the possibility on Wednesday, Mr. Sinclair said the goal is to open schools – not close other work sites – but that the B.C. Fed has not ruled anything out.
The BCTF would not disclose how much it has spent on legal or advertising fees, saying only it has not advertised since picket lines went up in the spring. The union had $6-million in its strike fund – enough to cover three strike days – and that was exhausted by the end of rotating strikes, Mr. Overgaard said. A $2-million donation by Ontario teachers in the spring paid for a fourth strike day.
Meanwhile, many teachers have had to take on second jobs to pay the bills as the strike drags on.
Science teacher Leanne Brown, whose partner is also a teacher, said the two have taken on painting contracts to earn an income. Her brother, who is a teacher in Surrey, has started working in construction, "hauling five-gallon buckets of concrete for eight hours."
Carolee McGillivray, a guidance counsellor, had to cancel her summer vacation with her son. She says she has had to refinance a number of things and expects to dip into her line of credit next week.
Mr. Reedman, the graphic design teacher, said teachers' willingness to continue the strike despite financial hardship shows their resolve.
"Because we're fighting for the good of the public education system, which we really believe in, we're willing to go," he said. "I'm willing to have to eat beans and rice for a month if that's what it takes."