Why I will vote ‘yes’ for escalating job action

On Monday, February 27, 2014, twelve years after BC Education Minister Christy Clark stood up in the BC Legislature and smugly proclaimed her pride in a new legislation which stripped hundreds of contract provisions from teachers, something amazing happened.

Wearing the biggest grin I’d ever seen, Mike L, the senior teacher on my staff, literally danced into my classroom and handed me a memo.

What you should know about Mike is that in 1998, he was on the local bargaining committee that chose to improve classroom conditions rather than take a salary increase. Mike is a helluva teacher and a helluva guy. But I digress.

The memo that Mike handed me announced that the BC Supreme Court had finally ruled on Bill 22, the BC Liberals’ most recent reiteration of the original contract stripping legislation from 2002. The court had recognized the government’s bad faith bargaining with teachers, and its violation of the Charter. The government was ordered to pay the teachers’ union $2 million in damages, and to set class size and composition levels in BC’s schools back to the levels identified in contract language in 2001 – the very language that Christy Clark had stripped all those years ago. Furthermore, the government was to make amends retroactively for all 12 years, and cover all the teachers’ legal bills. The wording of the ruling was very damning of the government’s behaviour.

For 12 years teachers had witnessed egregious cuts to education, suffered nasty labour disputes and goading from the Ministry, and endured apathy from the public, who didn’t seem to understand what the government was up to.

At last, we had been vindicated. We had won in court! It truly felt like surfacing after being lost in a dark underground maze. We stood there blinking in the light, dazzled by new hope. We all wore huge smiles. We high-fived. We hugged. We wept.

Of course the joy was short lived. The government announced almost immediately that it would appeal the decision, and we’d be back in court for who-knows-how long.

Fast forward five months, and we’re once again stalled in contract talks with a government who has been targeting public education for years.

But this time it’s different. Through social media, teachers have been able to dispel public apathy. We’ve been able to refute government talking points with a barrage of non-partisan statistics and historic facts, most of which can be pulled directly from the Supreme Court ruling. This time, we’ve finally got a chance to make things better instead of watching them get worse.

But the government is lashing out like never before. In the most mean-spirited act I’ve ever seen by an employer in my lifetime the government has imposed an unprecedented “partial lockout” in order to justify docking teacher paycheques by 10%. Nasty. If any private sector corporation did this to its employees, it would be in trouble. Companies know that in labour disputes, there are lines you must not cross lest you do irreparable harm to the employer/employee relationship. But this government is a nasty group of ideologues. Far from their stated desire to mend the bargaining relationship with BC Teachers, their actions prove they want to crush the teachers’ union – to shame them. They are adamant. And they’re desperate.

They know their chance of overturning the Supreme Court ruling on appeal is very slim. Their appeal is just an attempt to buy time. It’s now June, and the October sitting of the BC Court of Appeal is short months away. A loss in this fight will cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars, and will almost certainly sink them politically.

And now, the teachers have called a strike vote.

The timing is tough. Teachers are weary by June. We are uncomfortable leaving the students with a bad feeling before summer break, and we’re tired of fighting –of losing pay to strike days, of having 10% cut from our salaries. Many teachers would rather not further anger parents.

On the other hand, a strong ‘yes’ vote will show a cynical government that it can never defeat us. It will show the government that no matter what it does to us, we will stand up in solidarity.

In this last, desperate battle before the judiciary lowers the boom, the government will throw all of its grenades, and things are likely to get ugly. Already rumours abound of a lockout for September, whether we strike or not. They want to punish us.

But for me there is no more fear. I don’t care what the government does to me any more. I have fought too long, and endured too much heartache to give up now. We are so close! If we hold rank we can win. We have the Charter and the Court of Law on our side.

And if we lose… well… I’ll be okay. But pity the future. Pity the children of the children I teach today. Pity the teachers who are starting out in the system, and pity Canada, a country that used to see public education as a chance for the downtrodden – a way for everyone to aspire to a fulfilling life.

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12 thoughts on “Why I will vote ‘yes’ for escalating job action

  1. This article does make me feel better about the eventual “yes” vote that I’m sure will occur later tonight. However, I’m still in the minority and voted “no” to further strike action. The union and government will continue their costly battle in the courts, regardless of what we do. There are funds reserved to continue this court battle, but not the $50 a day strike pay. That is not fair. So the choice to me is obvious… stay with the kids.

  2. This is killing me financially, emotionally and stress-wise. I will STILL vote yes. I see that this is necessary.

  3. But why is there no other way to settle this? If two kids in your class aren’t getting along, do you stand there and watch them for 18 months, hoping they will suddenly start to play nice? No. You step in as a neutral third party.

    1. Many teachers have called for Arbitration … get a non-partisan Mediator… get ANYTHING to help … but Gov’t knows it’s on thin ice… but I ask you, why would you be neutral in such a disgusting, derisive and destructive plot against education? Why wouldn’t you stand up for the children at least…?? I understand a lot of people hate teachers – but it’s the kids who must endure the crowded classrooms, behaviour problems with no respite, learning challenges with no support… even if you don’t like teachers, surely you’d want BC kids to have at least a DECENT chance at a good education?

    2. It’s likely that one of the kids is a bully. In that case, you stand up to the bully. It can be false equivalence to say that both sides in a dispute are at fault. There are always two sides, but one might be in the right.

  4. i wholeheartedly agree with the teachers on this as when i lived there i seen cuts to the budgets for schools that were outrageous and kids were suffering from these cuts i had 4 children in the same school who i had little or no success of getting them the help they needed to be successful as a result of this i packed up my family and moved and since this move all my children have what they need to be successful Christy Clark and her government need to think what is more important their raises or the education of all our children

  5. I agree, we have to have a strong YES vote! If this Government succeeds in bringing down the largest public sector union in BC, then all the others will be following sooner or later in an attempt to destroy unions altogether!

  6. This is the time to stand firm. This government cares not for its citizens. It does the corporate masters’ bidding by stifling citizen empowerment by disrupting educational opportunities. Doesn’t this drama seem to be a well timed distraction to divert attention from the impending Northern Gateway announcement?

  7. I vote yes too. I don’t care about getting a raise. I have two children in this school system and I want to see them grow up with a chance at a decent education.

    Everyone has a right to a good education and good health care. I have never complained about paying taxes. Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized world.

    1. I agree Jamie!! Odd that we have to fight to get back what was illegally stripped. Kinda like negotiating with a thief to return your stolen car.

Note: Comments must focus on issues. Any comments containing derisive tone or insulting language will be deleted. You may disagree vociferously, but you must be respectful. For example, no sarcasm is allowed.

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