British Columbia Locals Help Teachers Win
September 25, 2014
On Sept. 10, IBEW locals in British Columbia joined seven other unions in the province to loan $8 million (Canadian) interest-free to teachers who went on strike since last June.
The strike was settled eight days later with teachers winning not just salary increases, but improvements in benefits and a $400 million fund to hire more specialist teachers to improve education in the province.
Intervention from the leader of the Canadian Labour Congress helped bring about the settlement.
“All unions, public sector or private sector needed to be concerned about the outcome of this strike,” says First District International Representative Laird Cronk, an officer of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
The teachers’ victory will improve the quality of education and the province’s approach toward future collective bargaining.
Cronk says teachers won contractual guarantees over a decade ago limiting class size. The limitations were supported by parents, especially those of students in special education classes, who recognized their children’s needs for personalized attention.
Years ago, despite the contractual mandate, a Liberal government stripped class size from the collective bargaining agreement and the teachers appealed that action in the courts.
The teachers won their court challenge in lower courts. But the province refused to reinstate class size protections and have appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court.
“The teachers and province were not far off on wages or other issues,” says Cronk. “But the government wanted language that would negate a favorable ruling on class size by the Supreme Court.”
The settlement provides for $105 million to resolve retroactive grievances related to the class size issue. The issue is left to be resolved in the courts.
While a majority of citizens appeared to still be in support of the teachers before the settlement was announced, says Cronk, the longer the strike went on, the more union adversaries would have exploited growing impatience over the closure of schools.
Parents rallied to support the teachers’ call for binding arbitration.
The province refused and continued to attempt to marginalize the teachers by emphasizing its relationship with other public sector worker unions whose contracts have been resolved.
That was an unfair comparison says Cronk because, in prior negotiations, the teachers took less in compensation than other public sector workers to win class-size and other protections.
“The IBEW mostly represents private sector workers. That made it even more important to contribute to supporting the teachers and letting them know, “We’re with you,” says Cronk.
A story in The Province reports that the strike’s “silver lining” was the growing activism of parents and students who wrote letters, showed up at meetings and became more aware of what it will take to improve education in British Columbia.