Similkameen Elementary Secondary School teachers returned to the picket lines just prior to the September long weekendon Thursday and Friday August 28 and 29, returning again after Labour Day for four days before relinquishing their positions for a study session on Friday, September 5.
On Monday, September 8, five teachers were stationed in front of SESS as the strike entered its 12 week, including the first full week of this year’s school year.
On Monday morning, the teachers were expressing hope that a union vote scheduled for Wednesday regarding the union’s proposal to take their dispute with the province to binding arbitration would pass.
“If the province agrees (to binding arbitration), we could be back to school in three days,” said Sherry Philpott -Adhikary, one of the teachers on the picket line.
Teacher moral was “pretty good” said fellow teacher Boyd Turnbull, “our members are making out quite well.” He said the union was trying to make it feasible for members to take on other jobs, and as a result there were fewer people than usual on the picket line.
“We are encouraging our members to support other local schools as well,” Turnbull added. He said several teachers at SESS had taken on other jobs.
At approximately 10:30 Monday morning, a Keremeos resident drove up to the group, offering a box of apples.
“Good luck,” he said as he drove away. “I support your efforts.”
“We’ve had tons of local support,” said teacher Nina Ruck, “although there are people who have come by who are negative towards our cause until we talk to them.
“We have to educate them – especially when it comes to things like the $5,000 signing bonus that was part of our contract offer.” Ruck said the bonus was to be provided in lieu of retroactive pay, which would have been much more expensive for the province.
“In the end, the province has to decide if education is worthwhile to fund,” Turnbull added.
“It’s all about union busting and privatization,” added Philpott-Adhikary. The five picketers all expressed a desire to see a resolution to the dispute.
“We want it done,” they said, “it’s been lagging on for too long.”
“It’s a difficult situation,” agreed SESS Vice Principal Scott Tremblay, of the labour dispute.
“I know of an educator with eight years’ schooling who has taken a job as a waiter,” he said, noting that many teachers have had to take on other jobs as the strike continues.
Later on Monday, the teacher’s union agreed to take a vote on binding arbitration, something the B.C. government rejected on the weekend after it was presented Friday by B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he would not hand the budget implications of a union settlement over to a third party.
But Iker said that a yes vote will give certainty to the union’s position and binding arbitration is the “easiest way” to get schools open again.