Teachers’ defence fund down $6 million
By Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun March 19, 2012
BCTF president Susan Lambert suggested a fee hike would be temporary and would raise millions of dollars to replenish that fund. The initial proposal was for a $100 levy for every BCTF member, but Lambert said that would not be as fair as a fee hike and would probably not be tax deductible.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin , PNG
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is padding its war chest for a sustained battle against the Liberal government and a law it passed last week that affects teacher bargaining and classroom organization.
“We are in a big fight and we need to be ready for it,” Surrey teacher Karen Kilbride said during a vigorous debate about whether the union should raise membership dues or impose a $100-per-person levy. There was broad agreement that something had to be done to replenish the union’s collective bargaining defence fund, which has been drawn down to about $5 million from $11 million since January as a result of efforts to oppose Bill 22.
Much of the discussion was in camera, but when the meeting opened again to the public, the nearly 700 delegates voted solidly to boost membership fees by 0.2 per cent to 1.69 per cent of salary, an increase that’s expected to pump several million dollars more a year into union coffers.
BCTF president Susan Lambert suggested the fee increase would be temporary and fairer than an across-the-board levy that would not take into account different pay scales. It would also be tax-deductible, she noted.
Meanwhile, debate continued in camera about what action the union’s 41,000 members should take to force the repeal of Bill 22, which the Liberals passed last week to end a contract stalemate.
A recommendation for action is expected to emerge before the three-day annual general meeting concludes today.
Lambert says anything is possible, including a wildcat walkout. But the union has calculated that a one-day strike would cost the BCTF and its members more than $20 million a day if they were slapped with the hefty fines made possible by Bill 22.
Education Minister George Abbott, in an interview from China where he is promoting B.C. schools for international students, said he remains optimistic that teachers will choose a constructive path.
Also on Monday, union members took to the streets in downtown Vancouver during a light snowfall with signs saying: “Liberal budget cuts have hurt kids,” “class size matters” and “special-needs students don’t receive the support they need.”
Bill 22 not only ordered an end to BCTF job action for six months but also changed the rules about class size and composition and set the stage for a mediator to attempt to hammer out an agreement that doesn’t include a pay increase.
Until recent days, the union has been engaged in a limited job action, which included refusing to write report cards, administer provincial tests, meet with principals or complete paperwork. It also staged a three-day strike earlier this month.
Abbott delivered a conciliatory message through the media. “This school year has been challenging for all involved and I am hopeful that through the mediation process, both parties will have the opportunity to work together to resolve issues and reach a negotiated settlement,” he said in a release.
But Lambert said the union has not yet decided if it will participate in mediation. It will depend on whom Abbott chooses to do the job. The union has proposed either Justice Ian Donald of the B.C. Court of Appeal or Justice Stephen Kelleher of B.C. Supreme Court.
Today, delegates will elect a president and two vice-presidents for the coming year. Lambert is facing competition from Rick Guenther, a BCTF executive member-at-large, while Glen Hansman, who is seeking re-election as second vice-president, will go up against newly declared candidate Stephen Zlotnik, a Boundary teacher.
As of Monday, Jim Iker was unopposed in his bid for another term as first vice-president.
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