VANCOUVER - B.C. teachers will "stand in solidarity" with the union representing school support workers in British Columbia, but the head of the teachers' union refused to say whether that means the teachers will refuse to cross picket lines.
With just over a week to go before classes resume, Jim Iker, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said he hopes the government will return to the bargaining table in good faith and with the necessary funding to enable a fair deal for the union.
But when asked repeatedly what teachers would do if the Canadian Union of Public Employees workers walk out, Iker would only say he preferred to remain positive.
"We'll stand in solidarity with our CUPE brothers and sisters," he said without elaborating. "I don't think we need to go beyond that right now."
CUPE, which represents about 27,000 education assistants, clerks, trades workers, bus drivers and other staff, said it has identified several ways the government could save money to fund pay increases.
The union representing school support workers in British Columbia has launched an ad campaign meant to pressure the provincial government only days before both sides head back to the bargaining table.
Talks broke off a couple weeks ago, and the primary issue has been wages, with CUPE arguing members have not seen a pay raise in more than four years and have been without a contract for more than a year. The workers want a wage increase of two per cent annually.
The workers' collective agreements are being negotiated under the provincial government's so-called co-operative gains mandate. The bargaining policy, which applies throughout the public service, dictates that wage increases are possible only if corresponding savings can be found elsewhere, such as through increases in productivity.
The radio and TV ads launched by the union Monday are intended to generate sympathy for workers in advance of a resumption of talks set to run between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6.
"Our members will take full-scale job action if the government doesn't show a commitment to bargaining," Colin Pawson, chairman of the union's bargaining committee, said in a news release Sunday.
"They're frustrated that we've had three false starts to negotiating, and the clock is ticking."
Scott Sutherland, a Ministry of Education spokesman, said Monday the province's bargaining committee will work hard for an agreement, and Peter Cameron, who was appointed by the province earlier this year to lead negotiations with teachers and other workers in the school system, remains hopeful significant disruption to schools can be avoided.
But the ministry wouldn't elaborate any further on the issues, which it said were better discussed at the bargaining table.
Iker said the issue is now in the government's court.
"Nobody wants to see any kind of job action," he said. "CUPE doesn't want to see any action. We the BCTF don't want to see CUPE have to do any action. I'm hoping government doesn't, either."
CUPE has said most of the workers it represents have given the union a strike mandate.
CUPE spokesman Mark Hancock said the union has made every effort to be fair and reasonable with the province, but he warns without a settlement, a strike is a definite possibility.
After talks broke off, Pawson said the union has asked for the same things other CUPE members in the education sector have received.
"I don't believe it to be unreasonable," he said.
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