VANCOUVER - Biology teacher Marc Carmichael has gone on strike three times over his 20-year career in British Columbia's public-school system and he estimates losses of at least $5,000 per fight.
"More than I'll ever get back," said Carmichael, who is awaiting resolution to the dispute that's taken him off the job at Point Grey Secondary in Vancouver. "I won't be out of the hole until I retire."
With union coffers long-depleted, the 58-year-old single father and his 40,000 colleagues have been walking the picket lines without any supplementary strike pay while trying to get by without any income.
Many cash-strapped teachers, such as Carmichael, have turned to family and financial institutions for support, and now other unions are stepping into the bitter dispute centred largely around money.
The union for BC Hydro workers this week asked its membership to set aside $100,000 in collateral from its reserves so the BCTF can secure a loan, while the B.C. Federation of Labour is planning to announce its own financial help on Wednesday.
"No one is going to get rich off this strike. No one," said Gwenne Farrell, vice-president of Local 378 of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union.
"The teachers especially — it's really quite the opposite. What we can do, though, is if we support the teachers that are striking we can help at least offset some of that financial hardship."
Thirteen B.C. union leaders wrote Premier Christy Clark on Tuesday urging the government to accept the B.C. Teachers' Federation proposal to end the impasse with binding arbitration, emphasizing that politicians should stop pointing to the financial framework within their unions' collective agreements as the obstacle to getting a deal.
The unions represent some 350,000 public sector workers, half of whom the government says already settled within its target range for wages and benefits.
"We have heard Premier Clark suggest that other public sector workers do not support the teachers, and that she is representing their interests," said BCFED president Jim Sinclair, who helms the umbrella organization that sent the letter.
"These union leaders represent all of those other workers and they're saying, 'No, you're not representing us, stop blaming us for not dealing fairly with teachers.'"
Teachers will vote Wednesday on the union's proposal for stopping labour action so schools can reopen, although the government has flatly refused to entertain the third-party settlement method.
The government maintains the union is demanding double in wages and benefits that others have settled for, while the union argues they are within one per cent in wages and one year on a contract term.
On Monday, Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he would not take any action that might "bankrupt this province," while refuting claims that only the union has made concessions in the ongoing conflict.
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Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Tuesday the province is showing a surplus of $266 million, but he's not about to use that money to settle the dispute.
Last spring, a group of Ontario teachers' union locals donated $2 million to the teachers' federation that funded an extra day of strike pay, said a spokesman. Some locals have created their own hardship funds, while the Surrey, B.C., local opened a food bank.
To pay for rent and food, Carmichael extended a pre-existing loan at financial co-operative Vancity, which also reduced its rate and deferred payments until October based on the strike circumstances.
The financial institution has create a "strike relief plan" offering loan consolidation, loan and mortgage payment deferral up to three months and additional credit. The institution has its own history supporting teachers after it acquired several branches of the Teacher Savings Credit Union in 1997.
"There's an illusion that in Vancouver teachers spend the summers off sitting by barbecues drinking large portions of alcohol. That's a joke," said Carmichael, whose summer-school class was also cancelled.
"I want people to realize teachers are not in it for the money, they're trying to fight for the moral high ground."
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