Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier Urges Teachers' Union Suspend Strike, Union Vows Indefinite Unrest

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier Urges Teachers' Union Suspend Strike, Union Vows Indefinite Unrest

Article excerpt

B.C. premier challenges teachers to suspend strike

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VANCOUVER - British Columbia's premier chastised the teachers' union and urged its members to cast aside strike action on Wednesday, inciting a defensive response from the teachers' federation.

Christy Clark stood beside her education minister and outlined her view of the steps required to get the situation rolling towards resolution in what was her first public address about the brewing dispute since the strike indefinitely shuttered schools.

Teachers must suspend the strike while the two sides negotiate, so that children can immediately start their school year, and the union must alter and introduce a "reasonable" proposal at the bargaining table, she said.

"The only ones who can end this strike or suspend it is the teachers' union," she told reporters. "If we really want to put students first and we really care that kids are at the top of the agenda, we'll all make sure they're in school tomorrow."

Clark promised that if the conditions were met, the government would start discussing what she began characterizing as the "single most important issue" for her, classroom size and composition. That could only happen if the union ended its bid to obtain benefits in the contract like an extra day off for high school teachers, unlimited massages and a $5,000 signing bonus, she said.

"As long as we're there, it makes it impossible for us to get to the things that I think really matter to parents...," she said.

Two hours later, B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker accused the government of going to great lengths to make it appear the gap between the sides was a massive gulf and vowed strikers would march the lines until they got movement from the government.

He said Clark was "mistaken" in her portrayal of the union's demands, noting several items had already been taken off the table, and described the government's $375 million interim offer for dealing with special needs in the classroom as "status quo" because it would only be used to hire teachers previously laid off due to cuts.

He reiterated the union's proposal for two new multimillion dollar funds to hire more teachers and deal with grievances as the only way to rectify the problem, while saying the union was still willing to bargain on the exact amounts. …

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