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B.C. Teachers’ union court action stokes labour war

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

With British Columbia teachers voting on a new contract, parents and students might be hoping to put labour strife behind them when classes begin next fall.

But even if teachers ratify the new agreement, a bigger battle between the British Columbia Teachers' Federation and the provincial government rages on, with the union on Wednesday saying it has filed a court challenge against Bill 22, education legislation passed in March.

As well, the proposed contract announced late Tuesday would be in effect only until June, 2013.

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Conceding that it's been a "long and difficult year," BCTF president Susan Lambert said the court action filed on Wednesday claims the government breached teachers' bargaining rights by reinstating legislation previously found to be unconstitutional.

And she maintained the union has the support of its members and the public for its campaign.

The court battle concerns bargaining rights for class size and composition that were taken out of teachers' contracts in 2002. Bill 22 puts them back on the table, but not until the next round of bargaining next spring.

"Teachers and parents are very clear that they want classroom conditions that allow their children to learn," Ms. Lambert said Wednesday. "So they want smaller class sizes and they want programs that address children who are struggling in school."

Education Minister George Abbott said a court challenge had been expected and that the government believes Bill 22 will stand up.

The legislation was crafted to respond to a 2011 court ruling that found previous education bills introduced in 2002 were unconstitutional.

"We are very confident that our response – largely through the mechanism of Bill 22 plus the Learning Improvement Fund – will successfully address the issues raised by Madame Justice Griffin," Mr. Abbott said on Wednesday, referring to the B.C. judge who wrote last year's decision on the previous bills.

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Teachers and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, the bargaining agent for B.C.'s 60 school boards, have been at loggerheads for months over wages and classroom conditions.

Teachers launched limited job action last September by withdrawing from some work, including supervising recess and preparing report cards.

That job action escalated to a walkout in March. Bill 22 ruled out strike action, imposed a cooling-off period and introduced a mediator, although the mediator was required to stay within the government's net-zero mandate.

The mediator, Charles Jago, had until June 30 to make recommendations and few expected a deal to result.

Details of the settlement have yet to be released, but Ms. Lambert said it includes about $2.3-million for benefits and leave provisions.

During negotiations, BCPSEA said that BCTF's proposals, including a 15-per-cent wage increase over three years, could cost up to $2-billion, a tally the teachers' union disputed.

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The result of teachers' vote is expected on Friday.

The last-minute deal is unfolding with a provincial election on the

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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