Revelstoke’s teachers lined VIctoria Road for several blocks as they sought community support as their ongoing strike continued to the end of the first week of the school year.
Many motorists honked their horns as they drove past the striking teachers, who held up signs and placards as they lined several blocks of Victoria Road from Mackenzie Avenue to Boyle Avenue.
Jennifer Wolney, the president of the Revelstoke Teachers association, said binding arbitration would be needed to resolve the dispute. She was echoing the position taken by Jim Iker the president of the BC Teachers Federation earlier Friday.
He urged the province to agree to arbitration and leave class size and composition to be settled by the courts, promising the union would then hold a membership vote on suspending the strike and returning to work.
Iker, in a live-streamed statement to teachers and the media, called binding arbitration the “fastest and most fair option that will see schools open and our kids back in the classroom.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender all but ruled out a call today from the B.C. Teachers Federation for binding arbitration to end the teachers strike.
Fassbender said he does not categorically reject the idea, adding the government team needs to see the detailed proposal in writing.
“I’ve never been a fan of binding arbitration,” he said, adding handing over control to a third party risks an outcome that compromises B.C.’s balanced budget and unacceptably damages the province’s finances.
Earlier in the week, government negotiator Peter Cameron told Black Press arbitration was undesirable, not just because of the financial risk to government, but because it takes the decision out of the hands of both the government and the BCTF.
“The parties end up not really having made the hard decisions and owning the outcome,” he said. “And it involves a third party, who would likely be a labour relations person rather than an educator, making educational decisions.”
On Thursday, the Revelstoke Board of Education is asking both sides of the province’s teachers dispute to find an “immediate resolution” to labour negotiations.
In a letter to Fassbender, Iker, and Michael Marchbank, the public administrator of the BC Public School Employers’ Association, the school board wrote they were disappointed about the level of uncertainty in the public education system and that “our entire school community is extremely concerned with the impact this dispute is having on students and their families.”
“The Revelstoke Board of Education strongly supports the BC School Trustees’ Association’s Back to School Action Plan and is asking all parties involved to find an immediate resolution to ensure stability for our students, and to protect the integrity of our school system for the benefit of our students, their parents, and teachers,” states the letter, which is signed by Alan Chell, the chair of the Revelstoke Board of Education.
The Back to School Action Plan has three main components. First, it calls for the BCTF to accept benefit increases that fall in line with those of other public sector unions.
Second, it asks the government to put all savings from the strike into a Learning Improvement Fund to support students, student learning, class size and composition.
Third, it asks for the government and all education partners to establish a new bargaining and labour relations structure.
The teachers strike began with rotating walkouts in the spring and turned into a complete school shutdown in mid-June.
It has already forced the cancellation of the first week of classes, with no end in sight.
With files from Jeff Nagel/Black Press