THE BLOG

Why B.C. Teachers Are Eating Lunch On The Curb

06/11/2014 02:30 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:05 EDT
Wendy Lau

My school doesn't really have a staff room -- it's more like a multi-purpose room with no windows. It's not very welcoming, so lunch can often be a no-adult-interaction time of day. But not recently. Recently, I've had the chance to eat my lunch outside, next to one of the busiest streets in Surrey, with pretty much all my colleagues.

Not because we're on strike, but because we're locked out. And those are two very different things.

A strike is a tool that unionized employees use in order to try and force their employer to acknowledge the workers' value and negotiate with them more fairly. This is what teachers have been doing in varying degrees since April.

Phase 1 (or Stage 1) was administrative in nature. Most students and parents wouldn't have even seen it happening. All student reporting and pre-arranged extra-curricular activities carried on as normal. Field trips took place. Parent-teacher interviews were held. Only "behind the scenes" things were impacted.

Phase 2 (or Stage 2) is the one day a week, rotating strike. This is the phase that's currently entering the third week. The intention was that during this phase, all activities that would previously have happened under Phase 1 would still occur.

Both of these stages were approved by the Labour Relations Board and were created in order to apply pressure to BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers' Association) in a "See? The teachers care so strongly about these issues that they're willing to be inconvenienced and have unpaid strike days. You need to care too" kind of way. Ideally, the BCPSEA doesn't want the students to miss school, and will work harder to make sure classes resume as soon as possible.

Then, we got locked out.

A lockout is when an employer tells their employees that they are not permitted to work. This is not a choice that teachers have made; it's not a strike. This is a directive from our employer (the government of B.C.) telling us that we are not allowed to work during our lunch breaks, nor more than 45 minutes before or after the bell. We legally aren't allowed to help students during lockout hours, nor are we allowed to be in the building.

This is not a teacher choice. If we are at school working during these times, we're trespassing.

It's why you'll see many of us having lunch on the curb. We aren't picketing during lunch. We're eating. And we're not allowed to do that inside. Staying in the school over lunch hour or longer than 45 minutes on either side of the bell could get us reprimanded.

We also aren't allowed at work at all on June 25, 26, or 27. We're locked out, even on the 25th, when provincial exams would need to be marked. So we can't mark exams, because the employer isn't letting us mark them.

The media and government spokespeople have confused the lockout action with talk about extracurricular activities. The employer is saying that we're allowed to volunteer, but that is not what the actual lockout order states. And, in order to protect ourselves as individuals and as professionals, we have to follow the lockout order.

It's horribly confusing. We're essentially being told "You can't do that," then the exact same person is telling the public "Of course they can do it. It's their choice." But it's not. Not unless we want to push the limits of the law.

Now, a lockout is not an uncommon employer reaction to strike action. The idea is that employees aren't doing their jobs, so a lockout is imposed to make them end strike action by showing how little the employer is bothered by the withdrawal of work. It's playing hardball.

But the hardball here isn't actually a ball.

It's your kids.


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