Labour unrest in the education sector is my pick for story of the year.
This spring, a full-scale, month-long strike was launched by professors at Vancouver Island University and job action for Nanaimo’s public school teachers started in September and is ongoing.
Both strikes generated a lot of stories in the Nanaimo News Bulletin and affected many residents. Thousands of university students were out of class for a month, many of whom had to put off plans for summer jobs and some lost the semester altogether – the university doled out refunds for 1,200 courses, which equals about 250 full-time students.
In the K-12 system, teachers are refusing to do supervision and certain administrative duties and while the impacts on students and families are minimal at this stage, there are impacts: report cards were sent home with no grades or other achievement information; schools could not host evening Christmas concerts; and there was an uproar earlier this year over international field trips, which were cancelled briefly due to fears the teachers might escalate job action.
The strikes came at a time when both the public and post-secondary education sectors are facing annual budget cuts to balance the books.
For professors, program cutbacks and layoffs were a major concern and teachers are fighting for improved working conditions – including limits on class sizes and the number of special needs students to be included in contracts – and increased salaries and benefits.
Both stories will continue next year, as the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation appear to be nowhere close to a negotiated settlement and the professors return to the bargaining table in the spring.