BC Teachers Vote 99 Percent For Arbitration While Government Scrambles For Options To End Stalemate

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VANCOUVER – BC Teachers have voted 99.4 per cent in favour of binding arbitration as a way to end the months-long labour dispute with the provincial government, which is still scrambling to find answers after trying to railroad teachers into a deal that they have no interest in.

The ballot read: “Do you agree with the BCTF Executive Committee recommendation that, if BCPSEA drops E80 and agrees to BCTF’s proposal to enter into binding interest arbitration and to leave court-related matters to the court, the current strike be ended?”

BCTF President Jim Iker said a total of 30,669 members voted — 30,490 in favour of a ‘yes’ mandate.

He says the BC government is the only thing standing in the way of a settlement and getting thousands of B.C. kids back to school, reported CTV news.

“Our members are sending a strong message. We’re ready to stand down if the government will agree,” Iker said.

In a statement issued to media moments after the vote count was released, Peter Fassbender called the results “widely expected and understandable.”

“We know B.C. teachers want schools re-opened. That is a goal we all share.”

This was a different tone from Fassbender, who along with Premier Christy Clark, have shown little leadership in trying to resolve the strike and has instead resorted to attacking proposals from the teachers union.

He maintained that binding arbitration would lead to tax increases for British Columbians because the sides are still too far apart when it comes to wages and benefits.

Iker seemed unconcerned that the government has already refused its proposal multiple times in the past week.

“Just because you say no once doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind,” he told reporters late Wednesday night. “We’re encouraging the government to change its mind, and we think this is a fair way to end the dispute.”

The B.C. NDP has urged the province to accept the offer of binding arbitration, to get children back into school.

The government is coming under increased pressure from the public to find resolve to the strike with Clark’s support hitting a downturn in light of no leadership on the issue. So Fassbender was forced this week to begin efforts to restart and both sides met Thursday with mediator Vince Ready but the meet have yet to yield any concrete results, increasing speculation the government has other plans to get the teachers back to work.

“I do know that Mr. Cameron and Mr. Iker and Mr. Ready are having discussions as we sit here,” Fassbender told CBC News, referring to the government’s chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, and B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker.

“The timing of when they’re going to actually physically get together, I don’t know that,” said Fassbender.

But on Friday morning, there was no sign from either side that a new round of actual negotiations has been scheduled.

Meanwhile, there are more signs government plans to legislate the teachers back to work if a deal is not reached by Oct. 6 when the legislature resumes sitting.

On Thursday afternoon, Clark said she was still against a legislated end to the dispute, but hinted the government is prepared to use other means.

“Well I’m very hopeful schools will be back, in fact, I’m certain schools will be back in session by the time I go to India”

Throughout the strike, the government has repeatedly said it won’t legislate teachers back, but on Thursday morning Peter Fassbender also appeared to soften that stance.

“We know we have to get kids in the classroom. We are going to take whatever action we have, the house is going to be sitting in October,” Fassbender told CBC News on Thursday.

The government and union have a long history of struggle over control of educational policy, with the union striking more than 50 times in the past 40 years and at least three settlements imposed by government.

But George Abbott, who was the minister during the last teachers’ strike in 2012, says it would only be a short-term solution.

“First of all, they’re probably limited to a one- to two-year return-to-work contract, an imposed contract,” Abbott told CBC News.

“Secondly, an imposed contract is really an invitation for another year or two of a bad or deteriorating relationship. One sees a withdrawal of services over that period.”

The B.C. Federation of Labour has also come to aid of the teachers, offering an $8 million in interest-free loans to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We’re not going to let money be a problem for 41,000 teachers who are standing up for public education,” said BC Fed chair Jim Sinclair.