Annika van Steen

Annika van Steen

Strike threat looms over schools

NANAIMO – With CUPE and the BCTF negotiating with the province, there could be interruptions to the school year in Nanaimo.

The pall of two possible work stoppages looms over the upcoming 2013-14 school year in Nanaimo school district.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation have been in the process of negotiating with the province and earlier talks have not yielded any deals.

CUPE Local 606 President Rob Zver said there is a favourable mandate for a strike and the union’s provincial team will be going back to the bargaining table on Wednesday (Sept. 4).

“As it stands right now, we’ve all taken strike votes. In Nanaimo-Ladysmith, we have initiated our mandate for 72-hour strike notice, so if called upon we would be able to re-issue another one to take the necessary steps based on what will happen at the bargaining table in the next few days that will come up in September,” Zver said.

Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said negotiations with the province are set to resume in early October due to a court case involving issues from 2002, the year the government of the time stripped class size and composition language from the contract.

Teachers have not issued strike notice nor do they have plans to strike at the moment but the teachers’ union will be interested in what transpires between CUPE and the province.

“Certainly we’re interested to see how it’s going to go and we’ll be on the outside looking in but if CUPE does decide to strike, teachers won’t cross the picket lines,” Ball said.

In terms of the federation’s negotiations, Ball said he is hoping the province brings more to the table.

“Unless the government brings more resources to the table, I don’t see there’s a possibility of a resolution. If they start to impose some form of 10-year deal, which they’ve been threatening, with our wages tied to the percentage of other groups of public service workers’ increases, really that’s not collective bargaining; it’s certainly not full and free collective bargaining, which I don’t think will sit well with teachers,” Ball said. “If they impose a 10-year structure … that wouldn’t be a positive. At the local table, we’ve been making progress and dealing with issues and been signing off some language and continued to have discussions with them.”

Public schools in Nanaimo will have plans in place in case of any sort of disruption – a full strike by either union would mean schools would close, according to Donna Reimer, communications director for the school district.

“If there was some partial withdrawal of services then normally, the union lets us know in enough time so we can come up with a plan and let parents know. Mainly we just ask parents to keep an eye on the news and as soon as we’re aware of anything parents need to know about, we’ll definitely let parents know,” Reimer said.