This is basically a political post. If you’d like to read something light and funny, you might want to go elsewhere, because I’m feeling really bummed out. I’m discouraged and I’m not in a good mood.
On Monday, we teachers in BC will be withdrawing our services for three days.
We have been without a contract since last June. Since school began in September 2011, we have been on a limited job action, which has involved such things as not attending meetings with administrators, not communicating in writing or email with them unless it’s an issue of student safety, not doing playground supervision, not doing administrative paperwork such as report cards. All of this was designed to minimize the impact on students, but put pressure on our administrators. We were hoping that they would eventually complain to their superiors at the School Board, who would then complain to their bosses in our provincial government.
Because it is the government that is the problem.
In the past decade or so, they have cut the education budget every single year, with no allowance even for inflation. They have declared teaching to be an “essential service”, meaning that we cannot legally go on a full strike, much like medical or law enforcement professionals. They have systematically taken away many of our collective bargaining rights, so that we can no longer bargain most of our working conditions – which, coincidentally, are the learning conditions of our students. And in this round of bargaining, they have literally refused to negotiate at all, simply saying a flat “No” to all the teacher union’s proposals and refusing to really discuss anything. They have told us that there is absolutely no money for a pay increase (despite the fact that a few other government unions have negotiated increases in the past several years, and the fact that there certainly was a truckload of money for the Olympics, for a new roof on BC Place Stadium, and for a pay increase for the provincial government politicians). They have not acknowledged that teachers in the past accepted no pay increases in exchange for better working and learning conditions (such as caps on class sizes and specific language on the number of special needs students permitted in one class and the amount of support those students need to be successful) and that maybe we are due for a some “catch-up” money instead, seeing as how we can’t bargain those items any more. The government has refused to budge on ANYTHING and just wants us to give up even more of our contractual rights (like due process for teacher evaluations, planning of professional days, procedures for filling job postings). They would not even consider having a neutral mediator involved in the almost 80 bargaining sessions the two sides have had so far.
Then this week, the government has introduced a law to force teachers to, among other items, accept zero increase in salary for at least two years, to agree to losing the ability to at least consult on class size and composition, and to continue to “negotiate” but with a mediator of the government’s own choosing. Oh, and if teachers decided to go on full strike, each teacher would be fined 475$ daily our union officers a minimum of 2500$ daily, and our union as a whole a minimum of 1.3$ million daily.
Teachers in BC are pissed. And despairing. What can we do? Everywhere we turn, the government is creating laws to make it illegal to act. They are bullying us and disrespecting us and forcing us into a corner.
This latest law has not yet been passed. Until it does, we still have the right to withdraw our services, though in a limited way. We have gotten approval from the provincial Labour Relations Board (a neutral body) that we may strike for three days next week, then one day a week after that, as long as we let people know two full school days ahead each time. We cannot legally picket or block entry to schools, but we can gather and protest in front of schools. Teachers voted 87% in favour of withdrawing our services, and we are doing this on Monday, March 5.
I personally am very upset that it has come to this. I don’t want to go on strike. I want to keep teaching. But I am so angry that my provincial government is treating me like a criminal and punishing me for simply being a teacher. I don’t deserve this! So I have to voice my anger somehow, whether or not it does any good.
Here’s hoping it does.
(And if you’re at all interested, here’s a link to a blog post written by Cheryl Angst, a BC teacher. She’s said it all so much better than I could. My comment is number 224.)