B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert spoke to a group of striking teachers' and their supporters today at Burnaby North Secondary in the midst of an ongoing labour dispute with the provincial government.
The full-scale teachers strike started Monday and wraps up Wednesday, but teachers have been refusing to do administrative work since September. Meanwhile, the provincial government is in the midst of passing Bill 22, legislation that will prevent teachers from striking further and will impose fines if they do.
When asked if the BCTF was prepared to mount an illegal strike, should Bill 22 pass, Lambert said teachers are keeping their options open.
"If the bill passes, I know that we will have to mount a campaign for assistance, because it's a bill that's dreadful for public education," Lambert said. "It's going to mean there's no obligation of government to provide services to children with special needs, there's no obligation to keep class sizes lower."
The Tuesday Burnaby North rally drew a crowd of roughly 30 people, including local teachers and representatives from the labour movement. Retired longshoreman Peter Scaglione came to show his support.
"Give them some more money for schools and the teachers and take care of overcrowded classrooms," he said. "There's no money for school, but there's lots for (politicians)."
Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes said he attended the Burnaby North rally as a show of solidarity.
"It's difficult for parents, certainly disruptive for kids, but from a report I got this morning, from the (district) superintendent, things seemed to go fairly smoothly yesterday, and I anticipate the next few day swill be the same," he said on Tuesday, Day 2 of the strike.
Hayes was unsure about what to expect in the ongoing dispute. The BCTF could face fines of $1.3 million per day if teachers strike after the bill passes.
"I know the teachers are certainly upset about the way things have been accommodated by the government. Certainly, they have to take into account there are some pretty substantial financial implications to carrying things on. I think they'll prove their point however the memberships wants," he said.
The main sticking point between the two sides is money: the teachers want a three per cent raise each year for the next three years, while the provincial government is sticking fast to its "net-zero mandate," which means no wage increase for public-sector workers. If the provincial government breaks that mandate, it would have to reopen other net-zero contracts and renegotiate those.
"This government has the money, their priorities are questionable, and where they've spent money in the past," Hayes said. "It's a big hole they've gotten themselves into, and I don't think the workers of the province should be the ones suffering because of that."
Teachers should be back in the classroom on Thursday, but they could strike one more day next week with two days' notice.
Spring break in Burnaby runs from March 17 to 25, and the BCTF is holding its annual general meeting March 17 to 20 in Vancouver. The BCTF would have to hold another membership vote to hold an illegal strike.
Another teachers' rally is scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 2 p.m.
For more on this story, see the Wednesday print edition of the Burnaby NOW.