The long-standing animosities between British Columbia's unionized teachers and the Liberal government surfaced again Wednesday with the release of a document outlining strike plans, amidst a union strike vote and the resumption of contract talks.
B.C. Teachers' Federation President Jim Iker denied the document was written by the union, but Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the paper was leaked to the government by a union member.
Fassbender said he's concerned the document lays out a three-phase job-action plan that includes rotating strikes followed by a provincewide strike.
Iker, who confirmed that a positive strike vote could eventually lead to rotating strikes, said he finds the timing of the document release perplexing as it comes when contract talks are set to resume and teachers are in the middle of a strike vote.
Iker suggested that the government wrote the document, because it distributed the paper.
"It's not a BCTF document," he said. "I'm thinking perhaps it's a government document because they seem to be handing it out. We think it appears to be some sort of political tactic."
Fassbender said the document was provided to the government by a reliable source, whom he would not name.
"My staff would never do that," said Fassbender in connection to Iker's suggestions the document was a government-created document. "I have the utmost confidence in our negotiators and staff. No one would fabricate a document. It was a document we received from a reliable source who was at a meeting in the school district."
He said he's concerned the document includes the BCTF's three-phase strike strategy while the two sides are attempting to negotiate a contract.
"Let's bargain," Fassbender said. "Let's find a negotiated settlement, that's all I'm asking for."
Iker said the union is also seeking a negotiated settlement, but job action may be necessary.
"Our goal is to get a deal at the table," he said. "It's not to go out on strike. One of the stages that we may consider involves that (rotating strike) type of action. Whenever a union takes a strike vote it empowers them to take job action."
Iker said if negotiations reach a point where the union considers a full-scale shutdown of the school system, the BCTF will seek approval from teachers with a second vote.
Results of the three-day teacher strike vote are scheduled to be released Thursday night. Approval to strike would give the BCTF 90 days to initiate some kind of job action.
Wages, class sizes and class composition are major issues to be negotiated in this contract.
While the two sides have had 40 bargaining sessions, Iker said talks have stalled over the past year.
A recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling in favour of the teachers is hanging over the talks. The government has launched an appeal of the decision that struck down legislation removing class size and composition provisions from the teachers' contract.
The government successfully applied to have last month's court ruling put on hold until that appeal is heard. The court concluded the government tried to provoke a strike and awarded the teachers' union $2 million in damages.
The case dates back to 2002, when Liberals used legislation to remove various contract clauses related to size and composition of classrooms.
In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down the legislation as unconstitutional. A year later, the government passed a similar law, which retroactively removed classroom conditions from the contract but allowed the issues to be discussed in future negotiations.