British Columbia's teachers' union is forging ahead in its pursuit of binding arbitration to end its ongoing strike, hoping another show of solidarity with a provincewide vote will convince a government that's already firmly rejected the offer to come around.
The B.C. Teachers' Federation is urging members to approve the settlement method in a vote on Wednesday and will promptly move to re-open schools if government agrees to the proposal and will take whatever contract an independent third-party determines is fair.
(Read up on the issues and history of the education labour dispute with our explainer Q&A.)
"Again, it's us proposing solutions. We think it's the fastest, easiest solution right now," union president Jim Iker told reporters on Monday, as the strike marched into its second week of delaying the school year.
"What we're saying by the vote is we're already going to be saying 'Yes,' if government agrees."
Iker called the government's refusal over the weekend to accept the resolution "a political knee-jerk reaction."
But Iker said the union still has a pre-condition to binding arbitration: scrapping clause E80.
The contentious clause, introduced by government negotiators, deals with bargaining classroom conditions and includes an adjoining stipulation that if either side is unsatisfied with a pending court ruling on the matter, the collective agreement can be terminated.
"It's time for this government to drop the single biggest hurdle," Iker said.
Iker put forward the union's more detailed proposal over nine hours of talks on the weekend with the government's chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, and veteran mediator Vince Ready.
But Education Minister Peter Fassbender didn't bend.
"After due diligence and further investigation, it became very clear that it was another empty effort to give parents and teachers a false hope that there is a simple way to resolve the dispute," Fassbender said in a statement issued on Saturday.
Fassbender responded on Wednesday by accusing union leadership of creating a ploy to deflect its responsibility for presenting an affordable contract.
Fassbender says he feels like he's in the film Groundhog Day, where the same day repeats over and over, as he told reporters that binding arbitration is not in the cards because he fears it would end up costing taxpayers money.
The minister also rejected the union's demand the employer scrap a clause related to class size and composition, while repeating the government is determined to get a deal at the bargaining table rather than through legislation.
The union's framework for settlement states it will hand over to an arbitrator unresolved items including salary, signing bonus, extended health benefits and dental, teaching-on-call issues, pregnancy leave top-up and preparation time.
In a new move from last week's proposal, the union said it would put its request for a new fund to hire more specialist teachers to an arbitrator.
The government has never agreed a new fund is required, stating it has already dedicated ongoing funds to deal with classroom size and composition.
On Monday, the Opposition New Democrats called on the Liberal government to accept the union's terms.
Leader John Horgan said the government has money in its budget, or, can raise enough money to sweeten the pot and prompt a deal. He didn't mention raising taxes outright, saying it's the job of government to find ways to solve difficult issues.
"There's enough money for this," said Horgan. "Government's responsibility is to manage the affairs of the public. That's why we're here."
NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the union was offering an acceptable route to ending the impasse.
"We've got Peter Fassbender out there talking like he's a Scottish trade unionist insisting that bargaining should continue when it's failed," Fleming said. "We need something different."
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Monday voters re-elected the Liberals on their promise not to increase taxes and suggested that if the government accepted the union's current proposal, it would cost every property owner in B.C. $200 more annually.