Striking through summer school
Summer school could be the next casualty in British Columbia's teachers strike, with the union promising to continue its walkout if a deal isn't reached by next week.
B.C.'s more than 40,000 teachers launched a full-scale strike last week, but the union had yet to say what effect the walkout would have on summer school. The province wants remedial summer school to be declared an essential service.
"If the government does not come forward with new funding to reach a fair settlement by June 30, teachers will be prepared to extend the strike into summer and picket summer school," B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker told a news conference Wednesday.
"It will be up to school districts to decide whether they cancel summer school or not."
A day earlier, the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which negotiates on behalf of the government, applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to add remedial summer school to an essential services order. Remedial programs are for students who have failed a high school course.
The labour board had not yet set a hearing date for the essential services' application.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said if the board doesn't rule in the province's favour, summer school won't happen as long as teachers are off the job.
"There just won't be summer school," Fassbender told reporters in Vancouver. "And then I would ask the BCTF to look those kids — who are vulnerable, that they say they care about — in the eye and say, 'We've decided not to allow summer school.'"
Fassbender said the government is not considering back-to-work legislation, which it last imposed on teachers in 2012.
"The government is not going to continue the cycle of disruption, legislation, litigation," he said. "We are going to stay the course and we are not going to legislate."
The employers' association also wants year-round schools and education programs in youth jails and health-care facilities declared essential services. Year-round schools, which have been closed along with the rest of the province's schools since last Monday, have classes scheduled until the end of July.
Iker said the union has yet to make a decision about year-round schools or programming in jails or health-care facilities.
He repeated the union's position that a mediator should be brought in to help the two sides reach a deal.
The union planned to meet with a government-appointed negotiator Wednesday afternoon to make the case for a mediator and discuss how negotiations would proceed.
Iker accused the government of "pouring cold water" on the idea of a mediator.
"We see it as the only way to bridge the gap between the two sides," he said.
The education minister said the government hasn't ruled out a mediator, but Fassbender questioned whether a mediator could bridge the gap between the province and the union, which he said were "miles apart."
The teachers began their provincewide walkout after several weeks of rotating strikes across the province. Before that, the teachers stopped doing a number of administrative tasks.
The employers' association responded to the rotating strikes by announcing a partial lockout that docked teachers pay by 10 per cent. A full lockout had been scheduled to start Wednesday at high schools and at all schools on Friday.
The employer said the lockout would not stretch into the summer, effectively leaving it up to the union to decide whether teachers' would be in classrooms in July.
On Wednesday, high school teachers wore placards that said Locked Out, rather than On Strike, though the distinction was symbolic.
The main issues in the dispute have been wages and issues related to teaching conditions, such as class sizes and the number of specialists available for students with disabilities.
The government contends that the teachers' proposal for wages and other benefits would amount to an increase 14.5 per cent.
The union, on the other hand, has said its offer is for an eight per cent wage increase, and it has argued that the two sides are relatively close on the issue of pay.
The province's current proposal includes a signing bonus of $1,200 if a deal is reached by Monday. The teachers' union has asked for $5,000 signing bonus.
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