Teachers show strength in Penticton
Feb 27, 2012 / 4:54 pm
Around 250 teachers demonstrated across the street from Penticton Secondary School Monday to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s recent move to impose a contract on teachers.
The after school activity in Penticton and in front of Summerland Secondary School was tied to a day of action, held province- wide Monday, which also included teachers’ meetings at lunchtime to discuss the government’s action and what their response will be.
“They have pushed us up against a wall here and are threatening our very professionalism, everything from dissolving seniority to replacing it with new strategies for posting and filling jobs,” said Pen-High drama teacher Megan Rutherford, who carried a sign saying “12,000 overcrowded classes, when will they learn?”
The meetings and protests followed Education Minister George Abbott ‘s announcement last week that he had asked his staff to prepare legislation to end the year-long contract dispute.
On Sunday he further stated the government is considering mediation to resolve parts of the dispute but not wages or benefits, following a vote approving mediation by school trustees on Saturday.
‘As with every other pubic sector union that has reached an agreement, any mediated settlement would need to be within the zero net mandate,” he said in the statement. “The union’s demands, which would add $2 billion in costs for B.C. taxpayers, are not acceptable given the current financial reality.”
The province’s 41,000 public school teachers are asking for a 15 percent pay hike over three years. Other concerns are fundamental changes in how seniority works, less in the way of health benefits and government wanting to take control of professional development.
Kevin Epp, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, said although the government has made it sound like the demands are unreasonable, in reality it’s more about making ends meet, particularly for young teachers just starting out.
“The government has focused on the dollar signs, saying teachers are asking for exorbitant wage hikes when in reality they are simply asking for cost of living increases,” he said. “Teachers recognize the economies of the world are not in the great shape, but many people have received increases under the net zero mandate.”
Teachers of all ages, some starting out in the field, others readying for retirement, stood carrying signs in a grassy area across from Pen-High. They were supported by students, educators who no longer teach and people who honked their horns as they drove by.
“I’m a retired teacher, and very angry about what the government has done over the last 10 years to erode the public education system,” said Penticton councillor Garry Litke. “It’s very damaging to children.”
Teachers have been on the job since the start of the school year, but have not filled out report cards or provided supervision after school as a result of the dispute.
On Tuesday and Wednesday they will vote on whether or not to escalate the job action to a full-scale walkout.
The results will probably be made public on Thursday. The vote then goes to the senior leadership of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to make a final decision on what happens next, said Epp.
“I think we are all going to stand behind each other and tell the government we want fair negotiation, and we plan on sending out that message with our vote,” said Carrie Brome, a Penticton kindergarten teacher, who waved a sign with the words, ‘Negotiate Don’t Legislate.”
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