B.C.'s 41,000 teachers will start a three-day strike on Monday, leaving many parents scrambling to make child-care plans as politicians in Victoria prepare to face off over the government's back-to-work legislation.
Susan Lambert, the B.C. Teachers' Federation president, announced the strike plans on Thursday morning after confirming that 87 per cent of the 32,000 teachers who voted this week, voted yes to a strike.
"We have an LRB[labour relations board] order that says we have a legal right to strike for three days. Monday will be the first day of us exercising that mandate."
Lambert said the vote results showed the members were clearly behind the escalated job action.
"We had a 75 per cent turnout. I think that is a strong mandate."
Lambert said she realized the strike would be a great inconvenience to parents but teachers felt there were too many things wrong with the school system that needed to be fixed.
Schools to remain open
In the legislature in Victoria, Education Minister George Abbott said he's disappointed by the teachers' strike-vote results but respects the decision.
He said schools will open Monday with principals and support staff on site to supervise students, but attendance will not be compulsory.
"It will not be an instructional day as one would have with teachers present, but the schools will still be open," Abbott said.
Do B.C.'s teachers expect too much, or are their demands reasonable? Have your say.
Under the terms of the LRB ruling, the teachers are not allowed to set up picket lines or block other unions from entering schools during the strike.
Many school districts are already asking parents to make other plans for their children if possible.
Earlier this week, the Labour Relations Board ruled the teachers can stage a three-day strike once, and then strike one day a week after that. But hours after that ruling was issued, the province introduced legislation that would make any strike illegal until Aug. 31.
That means teachers will only be in a legal strike position until the legislation is passed.
NDP vows to slow legislation
NDP house leader John Horgan says the opposition party will use the maximum time to debate the back-to-work legislation in an attempt to delay its implementation. He joked that all MLAs should bring their pyjamas to the legislature next week.
"All of our members are going to speak to the bill. We don't believe it is in the best interests of improving class conditions across British Columbia, and that is the point we will be making."
Meanwhile Lambert said the door was still open for negotiations to avert the strike and all the BCTF demands are negotiable.
"We have a weekend. We have tomorrow. If I got a call from the minister asking me to sit down with my bargaining team to negotiate a fair and reasonable deal for teachers, I'd be there in a heartbeat," she said.
She would not comment on what steps the teachers would take after the three-day strike.
"We are a democratic organization. We will consult our members as this whole situation unfolds."
Lambert characterized the action of the education minister, who introduced legislation earlier this week to end the teacher's strike, as bullying.
"Sometimes even though you are afraid, even though the threats are overwhelming, you just have to stand up to a bully," said Lambert.
Lambert would not say what action the BCTF would take towards any teachers who turn up for work on Monday and refuse to join the strike.
No contract since June
B.C. teachers have been without a contract since June and have been staging job actions since the start of the school year in September.
One of the main sticking points in the stalled negotiations has been wages. The BCTF is asking for a 15 per cent increase over three years, while the government says it has no cash for any wage or benefits increases under its net-zero mandate for all public-sector contracts.
Meanwhile, B.C. students are planning their own walkout Friday to call attention to the effects the dispute is having on their education.