B.C. teachers vote 99.4% for binding arbitration

BCTF President Jim Iker speaking a news conference Wednesday night.

BCTF President Jim Iker speaking a news conference Wednesday night.

Members of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of binding arbitration — but what does it mean when the B.C. government has repeatedly stated that it’s never going to happen?

At a news conference held Wednesday night, BCTF President Jim Iker announced that 99.4 per cent of the union’s membership — that’s 30,490 out of 30,669 — voted yes to binding arbitration. That tosses the ball into the B.C. Liberals’ court, according to Mr. Iker.

“Unfortunately tonight, there is a single group of people standing in the way of our schools opening their doors tomorrow,” Mr. Iker said. “The BC Liberals’ refusal to accept binding arbitration is now the only reason children won’t be back in class.”

B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who has described binding arbitration as financially irresponsible, and handing over responsibility to a third party, said Wednesday night’s vote results were “widely expected and understandable.”

“We know B.C. teachers want schools re-opened,” he said in a statement. “That is a goal we all share. As we have consistently made clear, binding arbitration would lead to unacceptable tax increases in this case. That’s because the two side remain too far apart on wages and benefits.

“The best way to resolve this labour dispute remains at the negotiating table.”

And so the stalemate continues. How long can this go on? Will this end in the B.C. government legislating teachers back to work? Maybe.

For those interested, here‘s the BCTF’s framework for settlement through binding arbitration.

The scene at Van Tech

Drama teacher Ramona Orr makes bannock and chicken soup for striking teachers at Vancouver Technical School. (Andrea Woo/The Globe and Mail)

Drama teacher Ramona Orr makes bannock and chicken soup for striking teachers at Vancouver Technical School. (Andrea Woo/The Globe and Mail)

Just a quick post from Vancouver Technical School, where the B.C. Federation of Labour just announced it would be committing $8-million in interest-free loans to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. (See our earlier post about that.)

Lots of support from passing drivers during the event. Lots of honks and shouts of support. I spoke with several picketing teachers and asked how they’ve been getting by financially since the strike began and one said she and her partner, who’s also a teacher, have taken up painting contracts. Another took a construction job. Another said he’s just spending less, and that he doesn’t care if he has to eat beans and rice to stick this out. Another said she’ll be dipping into her line of credit soon. Sure shows their resolve.

B.C. Federation of Labour offers $8-million loan to BCTF, nurses’ union provides cash

Striking B.C. teachers got a significant financial boost Wednesday from the B.C. Federation of Labour, but it won’t help them receive strike pay.

The federation announced its affiliates would contribute $8-million in interest-free loans to the teachers. The money will go into a general hardship fund operated by the B.C. Teachers Federation, whose members can apply for a loan.

The province’s 41,000 teachers have not had a paycheque since they walked out of their classrooms in mid-June and there has been no strike pay coming from the union, which has been strapped financially after years of court cases.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Fed, said the loan is an indication of solidarity among workers for the pain teachers are going through.

The money was raised from contributions by the largest unions in the province, including some from the private sector. The donations come from the B.C. Government Employees Union, the Hospital Employees Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Steelworkers, a local of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Federation of Post Secondary Educators, the Health Sciences Association and Unifor.

The B.C. Nurses’ Union, which is not a member of the B.C. Fed, held a separate news conference to announce its support to the striking teachers. The nurses are providing $500,000 as a cash donation – not a loan – toward the teachers’ hardship fund.

“We believe this significant sum will help teachers stand strong against a government trying to bleed them dry,” said BCNU president Gayle Duteil 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.

Related story: Unions reject B.C.’s ‘me-too’ wage excuse, back teachers

“For years teachers have been at the forefront of the struggle to protect public education and have weathered repeated attacks by the B.C. Liberal government on their rights and professional work,” said Irene Lanzinger, secretary treasurer of the federation and a former president of the teachers’ union.

“We are here to tell the Premier Clark that the teachers are not alone; the labour movement is standing with them.”

On Tuesday, B.C. Hydro workers voted on whether to offer teachers a $100,00 interest-free loan.

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

Flag business selling pro-teacher flags for vehicle windows

What to expect Wednesday from the B.C. teachers’ strike: Teachers to vote on arbitration, and a community march

B.C.’s 41,000 teachers have their chance today to vote on whether they should agree to go back to their classrooms as long as the government agrees to binding arbitration in their labour dispute.

But the vote was symbolic from the start – in the days before B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker proposed the vote Monday, the B.C. government categorically refused the binding arbitration proposal, saying giving up control of the cost of any settlement to a third party is not something the government will consider.

As the dispute appears increasingly entrenched, other unions and some businesses are stepping up to help. Today, the B.C. Nurses Union plans a “major” announcement regarding support for teachers.

The nurses are next up at the bargaining table and the government has repeatedly indicated any increase in a teachers’ deal beyond its stated parameters could heighten expectations of other unions. The nurses have had their own fractious labour relations with the province in the past, but nurses have an added club in their negotiation arsenal: There aren’t enough of them.

8:15 a.m., East Vancouver

A procession for public education hit the streets around Laura Secord Elementary School from 8:15 to 9, with organizers asking participants to walk slowly and wear black “to signify the many losses that public education has suffered.” As pictured above, our John Lehmann was there.

11 a.m., Burnaby

The B.C. Nurses’ Union is planning an announcement regarding support for striking teachers. Follow @AndreaWoo for more

9 a.m. – midnight, East Vancouver

Commercial Drive taco joint Bandidas Taqueria will be donating 100 per cent of profits to Families Funding Teachers. This will occur each Wednesday throughout the work stoppage.

6 p.m., Vancouver

David Eby, MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, holds a meeting for community members on the teachers’ strike at Point Grey Community Church, 3512 West 7th Ave.

Teachers will vote, but will the government listen?

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has organized a vote of its members that will take place in time for results to be available Wednesday evening (UPDATE: at 9:30 p.m.). Expect an overwhelming show of support for arbitration.

From a BCTF flyer:

The teachers of BC have asked the government to enter with us into binding arbitration, the quickest and most fair way to resolve this long and difficult dispute.

Teachers will vote on Wednesday, September 10, to approve the end of the strike if the BC School Employers’ Association agrees to the BCTF’s proposal to enter into binding arbitration.

Within a couple of days, we could see students and teachers back in classrooms, and families back to their busy fall routines.

What’s left out is that it takes two to tango, or at least agree to arbitration, and the province hasn’t moved a centimetre on its position that arbitration will be too costly.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Community raises funds for teachers during protracted labour dispute

A teacher walks the picket line outside Vancouver Technical Secondary in Vancouver on May 26, 2014, the first day of rotating strikes by B.C. teachers. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

The average B.C. teacher has already lost $6,000 from being out on picket lines since mid-June, Justine Hunter reports.

With some teachers resorting to food banks and working second jobs to get by as the labour dispute drags on, various groups — including community members, businesses and unions — have started fundraising in efforts to help them out financially.

Families Funding Teachers, for example, provides an avenue for parents to donate to teachers the $40 a day being offered by government for “temporary education support.” From its website:

We’re giving our #40bucksaday back to the teachers!

You can help by pledging your financial support to teachers and their families too!

All monies are donated directly to the BC Teachers Federation PayPal account and will go to support the strike fund.

We want Christy Clark and her government to know that we stand in solidarity with BC’s teachers – and that we don’t want her bribe money.

And on Wednesdays, Bandidas Taqueria on Commercial Drive will be donating 100 per cent of profits to Families Funding Teachers.

“We believe that teaching is one of the most important (and underpaid) jobs of our society,” reads a note on the taco shop’s website. “We support our teachers and believe in the public school system of B.C. This funds drive will last until the teachers are back at work.”

As well: On Wednesday (Sept. 10) the union representing 1,800 BC Hydro workers will vote on whether to set aside a $100,000 loan for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

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.

Rich Overgaard, a spokesman for the BCTF, said such donations and loans are usually managed by the union’s executive committee.

“Typically, money goes into the strike fund (when Ontario teachers donated a couple million, members got another day of strike pay) or funds are sent to our locals’ hardship funds [for members facing financial difficulties],” Mr. Overgaard wrote in an email. “Members in need access those funds through each local.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

3:00 p.m. PT update: Vancity has also launched a Strike Relief Plan for teachers and parents affected by the strike. Three options offered are loan consolidation, loan/mortgage payment deferral and extending credit. The credit union says on its website the plan is “available to members and non-members who have not been able to work because of the labour dispute, and to others whose income has been disrupted or have had to take on additional costs due [to] a strike.” Individuals will be advised on a case-by-case basis.