Teachers take to the streets in Salmon Arm

Teachers Aaron Smith, Colleen Craig, Kira Limber, Marlee Penner and Erin Chow take part in a rotating strike held Tuesday morning outside Shuswap Middle School. - James Murray/Observer
Teachers Aaron Smith, Colleen Craig, Kira Limber, Marlee Penner and Erin Chow take part in a rotating strike held Tuesday morning outside Shuswap Middle School.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

The B.C. government responded to the strike action that School District #83 has participated in by issuing a partial lockout to teachers in the province.

The lockout, which was issued on May 26, prevents teachers from being at work prior to 45 minutes before classes begin and no later than 45 minutes after classes are dismissed. Teachers will also be unable to provide supervision to students during the lunch hour and recess.

The B.C. Teachers Federation made the decision to proceed with rotating strikes across the province as they have been at the bargaining table for the past 16 months, asking the government for smaller class sizes, more support for students and a salary increase of 13.75 per cent over the next four years.

Teachers in School District #83, who were behind picket lines on Tuesday, say they are also taking action because the district has seen $650,000 in budget cuts that directly relate to teachers and service levels for the 2014-2015 school year.

The strikes are part of a two-stage plan that was voted on in March and began with teachers decreasing their administrative and supervisory duties.

“Teachers in our community, like teachers across B.C., don’t take this job action lightly,” said Brenda O’Dell, president of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers’ Association. “As teachers, we care deeply about our students and we empathize with parents who have to re-work their schedules. Many of us are parents, too, and that is one of the reasons we are taking this action.”

Teachers who walked off the job had their pay cut by 10 per cent by the province, and although the rotating strikes are scheduled to end by Friday, teachers are prepared to continue if a resolution isn’t reached.

The B.C. government doesn’t have any plans to legislate a settlement in the near future and offered a 6.5 per cent pay hike over six years and a $1,200 signing bonus if an agreement is reached by the end of June. BCTF rejected their offer.

“We want the BCTF to come to the table with a wage response that is reasonable and within the zone of other public sector unions,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender. “We expect them to come with something that is affordable for taxpayers.”

Although not restricted by the lockout, extracurricular activities such as field trips and graduation ceremonies may be impacted by the dispute.

Principal of Salmon Arm Secondary, Sullivan campus, Rob Mac- Aulay, says the school wants to wait to see how the process plays out before any graduation plans are modified.

“It’s really hard to be sure what’s going to happen given the current situation,” he said

Although attending graduation ceremonies is considered to be extracurricular and is not restricted by the lockout, it is possible that if an agreement is not reached, teachers may choose not to participate.

In a letter addressed to Jim Iker, president of the BCTF, public administrator of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, Michael Marchbank, stated that the BCPSEA supports the continuation of all student extracurricular activities and if a teacher withdraws from participation of such activities, they will do so either by encouragement of the union or by their own choice.

“Teachers play a huge role in grad,” MacAulay said. “It takes a lot of work, and if we don’t have access to them it’s going to be a problem.”

MacAulay says he hopes a settlement will be reached before grad takes place on June 26.

“We want our students to have a great graduation celebration,” he said.

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