02/25/2014 02:17 EST | Updated 05/26/2014 03:59 EDT

B.C. Teachers' Strike Vote Announced As Negotiations Stall


VANCOUVER - British Columbia's teachers' union will take a strike vote next month, saying they have no choice because the government continues to ignore a court decision that restored contract provisions on class conditions.

Jim Iker, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said Tuesday that over the past year the government has brought nothing to the bargaining table for teachers.

The province is also acting like the B.C. Supreme Court ruling last month never happened, Iker said.

"For teachers, our only recourse in response to the unfair and unreasonable proposals at this point of time is to apply pressure through a strike vote," he told reporters.

Iker said he believes it is "very, very likely" that the strike vote will be passed, though he added that any job action will not include immediate school closures, or impact extra curricular activities, report cards or communication with parents.

The court case involved provincial legislation that retroactively removed contract provisions on class size and composition from the collective agreement and banned them from future negotiations.

The legislation was originally introduced in 2002, and a judge ruled in 2011 that the law violated teachers' rights.

The B.C. government introduced similar legislation a year later, prompting job action and a three-day strike by teachers in 2012.

Last month, the same judge ruled the law unconstitutional a second time and awarded the union $2 million, saying the government was trying to provoke a full-scale strike.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender have consistently denied that they tried to goad teachers into job action.

Last week, a government lawyer asked the B.C. Court of Appeal to suspend the ruling until an appeal is heard later this year.

Fassbender said Tuesday he is disappointed about the strike vote.

He refused to specify what was discussed at recent contract talks, but he said the province is working hard to reach a negotiated settlement with teachers.

"I'd hoped we could continue to bargain and, while the court process carries on, we could stay at the table and negotiate," he said.

"I think a strike vote is provocative and unfortunate, and that's why I'm disappointed."

Despite the court ruling, Iker said government negotiators still proposed stripping provisions on class size, class composition and staffing levels during the most recent round of bargaining.

But Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the B.C. Public School Employers' Association, which negotiates on behalf of the province, said he is respecting the court decision because the proposal about class conditions is part of ongoing negotiations.

"The outcome of this case means that teachers once again have the right to collectively bargain working conditions... that wasn't in dispute," he said.

"We were prepared to negotiate their working conditions from the beginning of this round of bargaining."

Cameron criticized the union for holding a strike vote before it has presented its position on wages.

He also accused Iker of breaking with protocol by publicly disclosing details about contract discussions.

The government wants teachers to take up to two more years without any salary increase. Cameron said the wage proposal is being offered to all public sector unions, but Iker said teachers can't accept it.

"When you've been at a bargaining table now for a year and trying to do everything you can to get a negotiated deal, and also giving space to government ... at some point in time, you need to apply some pressure," he said.

"We can't be afraid to apply that pressure through a strike vote because of past government actions and past government history."

The vote is expected to take place from March 4 to March 6.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected version. A previous version said a second judge ruled in the second court case when it was the same judge.

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