From Citizen: “P.G. union boss crosses fingers for bargaining as teachers prepare for rally”

From Prince George Citizen – http://www.princegeorgecitizen.com/

Prince George teachers are holding a rally for public support tonight. At 6 p.m. they are calling on taxpayers to join their calls for a negotiated settlement in the ongoing labour dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) acting as an arm’s-length agent for the B.C. government. The rally will feature supporters of the teachers like BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, members of the North-Central Labour Council, United Steelworkers local president Frank Everitt, past NDP candidate Sherry Ogasawara acting as master of ceremonies and possibly BCTF president Jim Iker. “We hope on one hand to have him here, but on the other hand our bigger hope is that he is at the bargaining table. We do think that conversation is a realistic hope,” said Prince George and District Teachers’ Association president Tina Cousins. If Iker comes, he should bring a written proposal from which to bargain, the one thing the BCTF has seemed reluctant to do for a very long time, education minister Peter Fassbender told The Citizen on Wednesday. He said the provincial government is ready to bargain, but needs a concrete proposal with numbers. He said BCPSEA has offered the teachers a raise, the government has pledged $375 million to address class size and composition issues plus protocols for local input on how that is spent from district to district, but the conversation doesn’t even get to that point because “the BCTF has been intransigent in their position.” Cousins said one of the suggestions made by government was for teachers to go back to work while negotiations continued. “Realistically, this is a fight that we can’t lose,” Cousins said. “As much as teachers don’t want to be on a picket line – nobody likes a strike, nobody wins a strike – our kids will lose if we don’t prevail. And we did not see this going this far, but this is a government that has not been known for being truthful and fair in their dealings with the BCTF. There is no trust there at all. That’s kind of a bottom line keeping us, forcing us, to stay out on a picket line until they honour their part of this negotiation.” Fassbender said the suggestion of ending the strike during the negotiations also came with orders for BCPSEA to end any lockout action, and anytime negotiations hit a major snag the teachers were free to return to picket lines, but at least kids would be in the classrooms in the interim. “When you tear up previous contracts, lose court battles [now the subject of an appeal] and agree to lockout action, you damage the sense of trust on the other side of the table,” said Cousins.

“We are hoping for a big turnout because our community needs to speak,” said Cousins. “The teachers have been speaking. It is time for the community. So do come down, and urge your friends and neighbours to do the same. We need a community uprising and take up this quarrel as well.”

Fassbender said the public is being served by a government negotiating fairly with all public sector unions under transparent financial conditions of the overall provincial income. He said the BCTF is acting as if it is special compared to all the others that have negotiated mutually appreciated deals under the same wage and benefit parameters.

“The BCTF has not moved their position. The conversation is always: give us everything we want,” Fassbender said.

“We have an affordability zone that so many of those other unions had no problem understanding and working with us on. So to say the government isn’t willing to go there is categorically not true. But we need a proposal to come to the table to talk about.”

The rally tonight happens in front of Shirley Bond’s MLA office on Fifth Avenue and Brunswick Street.

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