teachers_voting051023

B.C. teachers have voted overwhelmingly to end a two-week illegal strike, which means the province's 600,000 students can return to school on Monday.

About 77 per cent of the 30,427 teachers who cast a ballot over the weekend voted to accept a mediator's proposals to end the strike, said the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

"Teachers have voted by a large majority to end our campaign of civil disobedience and return to work tomorrow," union president Jinny Sims said as she announced the results at about 8:30 p.m. PDT.

"We will do with our heads held high and hearts touched by the many gestures of kindness and solidarity we have experienced in the past few weeks."

The union, which represents 38,000 teachers, said 23,632 people voted in favour of the proposals and 6,795 people voted against.

Even though the teachers had been without strike pay and the union faces a $500,000 contempt of court fine for its illegal strike, Sims had urged teachers to vote with their consciences.

The teachers walked off the job on Oct. 7 to protest against a government-legislated contract, demanding smaller class sizes, a salary increase and more support for troubled students.

The government had refused to negotiate until the teachers went back to work.

Mediator Vince Ready tried to end the impasse by proposing a settlement last week that included:

  • $40 million to harmonize teachers' salaries throughout the province, and the same amount for the teachers' long-term disability fund.
  • An additional $20 million to raise to $170 million the money allocated to cut class sizes and deal with special needs students.
  • Unspecified changes to the School Act to limit class sizes.
  • A raise for substitute teachers.

The government accepted the recommendations on Friday and a day later, the union's executive committee recommended members vote to accept the deal.

'If we vote Yes ... we're laying down'

Many teachers who voted against accepting the proposal said it was because the province refused to guarantee its promise to limit class sizes by putting it in legislation.

"We're in a really tough position," said Martin Hauck, a teacher who was urging colleagues to vote No as they cast ballots at the baseball stadium in Vancouver.

Hauck said the provincial government's back-to-work legislation had stripped the teachers of their bargaining rights and he didn't feel they had won them back.

"If we vote 'Yes' ... we're laying down, the fight's over," he said before the voting finished.

Strike 'exposed' government, teachers say

But those who voted "Yes" said they were satisfied they've made their point.

"We've educated on what the conditions are for teachers in those classrooms and we've educated on a government that needed to be exposed," said Joan Storlund, an elementary school teacher.

"So from that perspective, I feel really satisfied and very proud to be a teacher."

"A narrow Yes vote means we're going back for our kids, but we want to send a strong message to government that we're not happy," said Katherine Harris, who teaches music.

Many parents said they couldn't wait for the end of the strike, which left them scrambling to arrange childcare while the teachers walked the picket line.

"We've had a neighbour looking after our kids during the weeks and it's been really trying for us," said Glen Gustavsson, who has a child in kindergarten and another in Grade 2.