Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Teachers At-the-Ready but B.C. Strike Not Necessarily Imminent: Observers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Teachers At-the-Ready but B.C. Strike Not Necessarily Imminent: Observers

Article excerpt

Vote unlikely to prompt immediate teachers' strike

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VANCOUVER - A pivotal strike vote this Monday and Tuesday by British Columbia's teachers is no schoolyard game of chicken, and experts advise that tiptoeing, rather than stampeding, towards a strike or back-to-work legislation may settle the dispute far more quickly.

Frustrations in what will likely be a strong union vote of support for a full strike could be channelled into pressure at the bargaining table, said University of the Fraser Valley Associate Prof. Fiona McQuarrie.

"With the emotions running as high as they are, whoever decides to escalate this first is going to take a big risk," said McQuarrie, who's in the university's school of business. "If the dispute then blows up totally out of hand, they're going to be seen as the ones who made that happen."

The B.C. Teachers' Federation's call-to-arms comes after weeks of incrementally rising tactics that haven't resulted in the movement from the government to the extent the union wanted.

McQuarrie is expecting a successful vote, which she said gives union negotiators more leverage. Completely shutting down the workplace, however, she said would be the "last big thing" teachers could do.

Charles Ungerleider, a former B.C. deputy minister of education, said he, too, doesn't expect an affirmative vote will prompt the union to issue immediate notice.

"The fact that you're taking a strike vote doesn't indicate that you're necessarily going to a strike," said Ungerleider, a bureaucrat under the New Democrats from 1998 to 2001 and now professor emeritus with the University of British Columbia.

The union has typically gone back to its members for a strike mandate over the years he's witnessed bargaining, he said, in order to move up the ladder of escalation in a way that gives teachers some control.

But what has been different in this round of negotiations, Ungerleider said, is the "encouraging" government pledge to hold off legislating a settlement. He believes the union's chief concern isn't wages but getting traction around classroom conditions.

He has some sympathy for teachers, he added. …

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