Unions rally together to support striking B.C. teachers

Thousands expected to protest Bill 22, ‘net-zero’ wage mandate
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 03/06/2012

The British Columbia Federation of Labour (BCFL) is encouraging thousands of the province’s union members to rally at the provincial legislature in Victoria to support striking teachers.

About 41,000 public school teachers started a three-day general strike March 5, which forced schools to close across the province.

Union members will be rallying with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) to a protest Bill 22, which will stop any further job action, impose a “cooling-off period” and appoint a mediator to find a deal within the “net-zero” mandate before negotiations resume.

““Unions worked together to secure our right to free collective bargaining, and we’ll work together to defend that right," said BCFL president Jim Sinclair.

More than 5,000 teachers and union supporters are expected to descend on the legislature, according to union officials.

“We need to maintain pressure on government,” the BCTF said in a post on its website. “There is no reason why government cannot abandon Bill 22 and resume bargaining — with a mandate that will allow for a fair and respectful deal.”

The main issue in the dispute is a $2-billion divide between the government and the union on compensation. The government is insisting on sticking to a “net-zero” mandate, meaning that a salary increase could only happen if there were savings found in other areas of the education system.

The teachers’ union is asking for a 15 per cent pay hike over three years.

The union's demands are unrealistic in today's economic environment, according to Education Minister George Abbott, noting the union's wage demand, as well as improved benefits, would cost the government $2.06 billion.

“If you look at the history of the relationship between the teachers’ union and the government in this province, you’ll soon realize that in almost 20 years of province-wide bargaining, the BCTF has only successfully concluded one negotiated agreement,” Abbott said.

The government shows no sign of shifting from its “net-zero” mandate. In fact, any wage increase for the teachers would affect other public sector contracts, according to Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.

“The reality is if the teachers achieve their 15 per cent wage increase objective that would have a 'me too' effect on 130 other agreements that have already been signed,” Falcon told CBC news.

Last week, the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) granted teachers the right to conduct the three-day strike, provided two days’ notice was given. Teachers could then strike one day per week, the board ruled. Teachers are not permitted to set up picket lines, but can distribute information.

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