Mediator Vince Ready arrives to meet with B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker and B.C. Public School Employers' Association negotiator Peter Cameron in Richmond

Teachers strike at ‘impasse’ after talks fail

Parents told to brace for long shutdown of schools as strike blocks start of classes

Pickets were brandished instead of pencils at public schools Tuesday after an attempt at mediated talks to resolve the teachers strike collapsed over the weekend, ending hopes classes could start on schedule.

School district administrators warned parents of children requiring alternate child care to plan for a lengthy shutdown of schools and to not assume the labour dispute will be resolved in a matter of days.

Veteran mediator Vince Ready walked away from the exploratory negotiations Saturday, saying the two sides were at “an impasse” and simply too far apart – particularly on wages and benefits – for mediation to be productive.

B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker said the two sides are just one per cent apart on wages.

The government offer is seven per cent over six years, while the union wants eight per cent over five.

But Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the BCTF demand is still nearly twice what other public sector unions have settled for once benefit demands are included.

The province has also taken a $1,200 signing bonus off the table, while the union still wants $5,000, which makes up a big chunk of what the government says is a $300-million gulf between the positions,

The province has offered a $75-million Learning Improvement Fund to help address special needs but the union wants much more for special needs and to settle grievances.

Another challenge to a negotiated settlement remains the government’s pending appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that it violated the union’s bargaining rights in 2002 when it stripped provisions on class size and support.

Iker claimed the BCTF has reduced its demands by $125 million, including a cut in the size of its proposed fund to settle grievances, while the government offered no meaningful moves in return and “squandered” the chance at a deal.

He said the province wants new contract language that will “nullify” the union’s legal victories on class size and composition and circumvent any future appeal court ruling in teachers’ favour.

“B.C. teachers will not bargain away everything that the B.C. Supreme Court has already awarded us and we will not jeopardize any future court decision,” Iker said. “The government must back off that unreasonable request and invest money in the system now.”

Fassbender again insisted the province won’t legislate the teachers back to work, saying it would keep the government and union “on the same dysfunctional treadmill” they’ve been on for 30 years.

“Negotiating a settlement requires union leaders to stand in front of their members and explain what has been achieved at the bargaining table,” he said.

“I worry the BCTF leadership is actually counting on government to legislate an end to this strike so they can avoid having a difficult conversation with their members about what is realistic and achievable.”

He had previously urged the union to agree to open schools on time this week as part of a two-week truce while mediation could continue.

That possibility evaporated when Ready said he saw no route to an agreement and walked away.

“The BCTF leadership has stubbornly refused every effort to reach a fair deal and they have even refused to give teachers a chance to vote on suspending the pickets while an agreement is mediated,” Fassbender said.

Parents have begun signing up for a government offer of $40 per child under age 13 for each day schools are closed.

The lumpsum payments are to come after the strike ends and consume all the $12 million a day in strike savings the government would have amassed going forward.

The B.C. Federation of Labour on Tuesday announced “Solidarity” rallies in Surrey today, Kelowna Wednesday, Prince George Thursday and Vancouver on Friday.

President Jim Sinclair said the federation will also meet Thursday to discuss more potential ways to assist the teachers.

Just Posted

BREAKING: Highway 3 near Keremeos closed due to rock slide

Highway 3 just west of Keremeos is closed as of 8:44 p.m.… Continue reading

Budget fails to put people and planet first

By Wayne Stetski, M.P. The 2019 federal budget has been framed as… Continue reading

RCMP recover stolen snowmobiles from Revelstoke

The RCMP say they are continuing to investigate the incident

Okanagan College to develop wellness strategy for drug use

The Kelowna campus has 28 employees trained in the use of naloxone.

Dust advisory in affect for Kelowna

Avoid roads with heavy vehicle traffic

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

UPDATE: Destructive blaze in West Kelowna

A unit of a condo complex is on fire in West Kelowna

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Pet Planet picks up Okanagan’s cannabis for pets

True Leaf Medicine International expands retail distribution to 3,500 stores worldwide

AquaVan comes to Okanagan Science Centre

200-litre mobile touch tank allows you to get up-close with marine invertebrates

Army of support behind Black Press saleswoman battling cancer

GoFundMe helps empower Sue Folliott’s fight

Boy who went missing from park remains largest probe in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

No joke: Kelowna’s first zero-waste grocery store to open April 1

Farm Bound Zero Waste has announced its opening date

Most Read