Teachers back in class tomorrow

Dozens of Mission teachers marched down First Avenue Wednesday afternoon

Mission teachers marched down First Avenue Wednesday afternoon.

Students are going back to class tomorrow after a three-day strike that saw teachers standing outside their places of employment, and in other visible spots throughout Mission.

Teachers on Second Avenue in front of the Mission Teachers’ Union (MTU) office Wednesday afternoon,  culminating in a march and rally along First Avenue.

“We wish you to know that we took this action reluctantly and only after careful consideration,” said a press release from the MTU. “The government would have the public believe that this strike is all about wage increases for teachers. What the government does not want to talk about is the savage destruction of our collective agreement and basic rights as workers.”

Several local educators also made the trek to Victoria Tuesday and joined between 4,000 and 5,000 union members as they marched on the B.C. legislature to protest legislation putting an end to seven months of job action by public school teachers.

Teachers and other union members came by bus, plane and ferry from around the province to demand that the government withdraw Bill 22, which will impose a cooling-off period and appoint a mediator to seek a settlement within the government’s “net zero” wage mandate for B.C.’s 41,000 teachers.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert addressed the crowd to cheers and chants of “shame” as she described 10 years of government action to “strip” BCTF contracts. Bill 22 repeals 2002 legislation struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court, but reinstates many of their provisions, Lambert said.

Lambert also denounced new performance evaluations and disciplinary measures for teachers.

“One bad report and you’re gone,” she said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair told the crowd the restriction of teacher rights to strike and bargain working conditions are a blow to all unions. He and Lambert both said the government refused to put the year-long teacher dispute to an independent mediator, and have restricted any settlement to fund wage and benefit increases through savings found within the education system.

The BCTF has demanded a 16 per cent wage increase and benefit improvements that the employers’ negotiators say will cost taxpayers an extra $2 billion a year.

Education Minister George Abbott said the government will continue to debate Bill 22 without extending legislature hours, despite an opposition delaying tactic where all 34 NDP MLAs are speaking for the maximum time.

That could drag the debate into next week, where teachers are in a legal position to strike for one more day. If teachers continue their walkout Thursday and Friday in defiance of a Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services, the government would reassess its position, Abbott said.

Pickets put up by members of the BCTF and other unions at government offices around Victoria Tuesday morning directed unionized staff not to go to work, but to register for strike pay with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and then attend the rally instead.

The government applied to the Labour Relations Board for an injunction against picketing, which the BCTF was prohibited from doing in an earlier ruling that allowed a three-day strike this week.

– with files from Tom Fletcher