After rejecting an offer from the school district bargaining agency for a long-term contract, the B.C. Teachers' Federation went to the Labour Relations Board this week to establish essential service levels for strike action.
BCTF members voted 89 per cent in March to endorse a three-stage strike plan that can begin with 72 hours notice. Phase one includes restricting communication with school managers, arriving no more than an hour before and leaving an hour after school hours, and refusing supervision of students outside class time.
It does not affect pre-arranged voluntary activities such as coaching, but the refusal of supervision requires essential service levels that compel some teachers to assure the safety of students while they are out of classes.
Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for B.C.'s 60 school districts, said there are some rural schools with no management staff to supervise playgrounds. Typically it is the employers' association that seeks an essential services order, but this time the BCTF applied.
That's unusual for a union that has a history of opposing essential service orders at the LRB and the International Labour Organization, Cameron said. It is also a sign that the BCTF is preparing for strike action after the Easter break.
Cameron said if stage one strike action begins, the B.C. Public School Employers' Association will seek an order that the union pay for its extended benefits during any withdrawal of service. That would cost about $5 million a month for 41,000 public school teachers.
"In order that there is in fact pressure on both sides, BCPSEA needs to respond to any phase one activities with measures that put corresponding pressure on the union," Cameron wrote in a letter to BCTF president Jim Iker.
Cameron's initial offer is for a 10-year agreement with pay increases totalling 6.5% over the first six years and additional wage increases to be negotiated for the final four years.
BCTF negotiators countered with a three-year proposal with three per cent plus a cost-of-living increase in each year. With compounding and current estimates of inflation, BCPSEA calculates that could amount to 13.5 per cent over three years.
Phase two of the BCTF plan is rotating one-day walkouts in districts around the province. Phase three, a full-scale strike, would require a second vote by members to authorize.