Teachers standing up to bullying: Princeton Teachers’ Union president

Princeton District Teachers' Union president speaks out against Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act.

Princeton teachers hold up signs outside Cooper's while on strike Monday.

Princeton teachers hold up signs outside Cooper's while on strike Monday.

Princeton teachers, along with all teachers in B.C., announced on March 1 they will hold a three-day strike starting March 5, leaving parents scrambling to find alternate childcare.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert announced the strike after confirming 87 per cent of teachers in B.C. voted yes to strike.

“Teachers around this province and in this community are standing up to being bullied,” said Robert Tarswell, president of the Princeton District Teachers’ Union.

Education Minister George Abbott introduced Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, on Tuesday. It is intended to suspend the current job action, set a “cooling off period,” appoint a mediator and implement a new $165-million Learning Improvement Fund.

Any continuing strike action would be illegal if the bill is approved. Fines would be given for each day of strike action – around $1.3 million for the union and up to $475 for individual teachers.

“[Bill 22] is not an education document, it’s a political document. It’s meant for the liberals to solidify their base,” Tarswell said.

“Bill 22 is called the Education Improvement Act, but I think it should be called the Education Impairment Act.”

Bill 22 takes away fair process for dismissing teachers, because after just one unsatisfactory evaluation they can be fired, he said.

But Education Minister George Abbot has a different take on the strike.

“It is clear that this strike is hurting students and any escalation in strike action will only increase the harm to students and the impact on parents,” said Abbott in a release.

“The union’s demands, which would add $2 billion in costs for B.C. taxpayers, are not acceptable given the current financial reality.”

But Lambert said offering nothing and demanding “deep concessions” completely disrespects the deep commitment teachers bring to their work.

“We’re worried and upset about the continued damage this government is doing to public education, with at least $100 million in cuts to come next year from inflationary pressures on a flat budget.”

Tarswell said B.C. teachers are looking to get paid enough for the cost of living.

“Teachers in B.C. have fallen behind our provincial counterparts. We’re $20 thousand behind teachers in Alberta, our neighbours.”

Schools remained open during the strike. Principals, vice-principals and non-union staff were there to watch students, but parents who could make alternate arrangements were encouraged to do so.