OVERVIEW: The BC public education dispute to date

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With only days to go before the official end of summer vacation, Education Minister Peter Fassbender, government negotiator Peter Cameron, and BC Teachers Federation Jim Iker are currently in a meeting at the legislature in Victoria. It’s the first face-to-face between the union head and the minister.

While the two sides are thought to be fairly close on a wage settlement, the issue around benefits, and class size and composition, continues to be a sticking point between the BCTF and the Liberals, as it has been for over a decade.

There looked to be some light at the end of the tunnel when veteran mediator Vince Ready finally agreed to get involved earlier this month, but then negotiations seemed to stall again. Now parents, teachers and school employees across the province are waiting for the results of today’s meeting.

Here’s brief overview of what’s happened since the dispute heated up in April.

The Dispute Timeline

April 2014 – Stage 1 Job Action Begins

The BC Teachers Federation announces 72-hour strike notice for “low level” Stage 1 job action. President Jim Iker says that the Stage 1 job action will start Wednesday, April 23rd but “will not stop extracurricular activities, or report cards”, but will only impact administration.

May 2014 – Rotating Strikes Begin & Government Imposes a Partial Lockout

In early May, the Clark Government announces it is withdrawing its demand that teachers sign a 10-year contract, instead offering a 6-year deal with a $1200 signing bonus if the deal’s done by the end of June. The caveat to this offer is that the government will roll back the teacher’s wages if they don’t sign by the end of this school year.

Two weeks of rotating strikes: On May 20th, the BCTF announces stage two of job action in the form of  rotating strikes,  saying this is in response to the government’s refusal to move on class size and composition, as well as ‘fair’ wages, and that  89% of the membership voted in favour of escalating job action.

In response to the job action, the government imposes a wage reduction and a partial lockout: teachers are informed they are not allowed to be on school grounds more than 45 minutes before or after the start of their classes, communicate with administrators, nor attend any organizational meeting. Teachers are, however , allowed to continue volunteering their time for extracurricular activities such as graduation ceremonies, awards ceremonies, sports events, and year-end celebrations,  because, according a government document “Extracurricular activities are not considered paid work and teachers do this of their own choice. Teachers are welcome to continue their involvement with any extracurricular or volunteer activities of their choice.” This causes confusion for parents, students and teachers alike.

June 2014 – School Year Ends With Full-Scale Strike Action.

The BCTF challenges the wage rollback and takes it to the Labour Relations Board, which rules that wage rollbacks are legal. Full-scale strike action looms.

June 12th: The BCTF gives five days notice for full-scale strike action. leaving students, parents, and school employees with only one actual school day to end their school year and pack up for the summer.

June 13th: Last day of public school for nearly 600,000 students across British Columbia.

July 2014 – A Month of Nothing, and then…the $40 Red Flag

July 31st: After a month of almost nothing, Finance Minister Mike de Jong announces that the BC government will be offering parents of each public school student under the age of 13 $40 a day if the on-going education dispute between the BCTF and the government is not settled.

August 2014 – Veteran Mediator Ready Finally “Ready” to Get Involved

August 13th: Mediator Vince Ready meets with both parties separately and agrees to monitor the situation.  He says he’ll begin full mediation when he thinks it will be productive. Both parties agree not to engage in public discussion pending further discussions with Mr. Ready.

August 20th: Education Minister Peter Fassbender reveals a new website bcparentinfo.ca that provides information to parents, including how to apply for the Temporary Education Support payment of $40 per day . The website also has information on the bargaining proposals, including a document titled ” Barriers to Concluding a Negotiated Collective Agreement: Costing the BCTF Proposals Currently on the Table”.

 August 24th: Speaking at a summer teacher’s conference, BCTF President Jim Iker calls out BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender for what he says is a breach of the media balck-out agreement, and throws down a challenge to start mediation the next day.

August 25th: Picket lines go back up in Kamloops, Vancouver and Langley.

August 26th: With only days to go before the official end of summer vacation, the province confirms Education Minister Peter Fassbender, government negotiator Peter Cameron, and BC Teachers Federation Jim Iker have a meeting planned at the legislature in Victoria for Wednesday, August 27th.

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