BCTF strike fund nearly empty as full strike vote nears

WATCH: The BCTF says a full walkout means “no” exams or report cards. But the government is heading back to the LRB, saying it will ensure that school ends the way it’s supposed to. Jill Bennett reports.

VANCOUVER – As British Columbia’s unionized teachers ponder whether to follow their leadership into a full-scale walkout, the union has admitted its war chest is empty and it won’t be able to dole out more strike pay.

The fund from which the union draws cash to subsidize teachers on the picket lines has been depleted and it can’t cover an escalating strike, states a memo on the union’s internal website.

The Collective Bargaining Defence Fund had enough money to finance up to three days of pay for rotating strikes, said the document that answers questions about the escalation vote. But it’s unable to cover additional strike days “that may well be necessary in order to achieve a collective agreement.”

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Teachers will be paid $50 per day for rotating strikes, which have taken place one day per week for the past two weeks and are planned to carry forward through next week.

The teachers will be at work next Monday and rotating strikes will be held Tuesday through Friday.

“There is no doubt that the costs associated with continually fending off attacks on teacher rights and the collective agreement are high, but the cost of not doing so are far worse,” reads the memo dated June 4 and posted in the B.C. Teachers’ Federation internal website.

The prospect of a full-scale strike donned Wednesday, after the union announced it will ask teachers to support a withdrawal of all services in a vote this coming Monday and Tuesday. If a majority approves, the teachers are legally obligated to give three days notice.

MORE: BCTF threatens full-scale teachers’ strike in next two weeks

A spokesman for the union wouldn’t provide further information about the pay situation, only saying the BCTF is in the process of informing its members ahead of the vote. Some other public-sector unions don’t pay their members until at least day four of a strike, he noted.

The memo explains the strike fund has been exhausted as a result of 12 years “defending teachers’ rights,” which has included court battles with the government over the removal of classroom size and composition provisions from the bargaining process.

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Global legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey says that reaction from teachers has been mixed.

“It appears the teachers who were most active in the union were aware of this; the ones going to the meetings and reading the literature,” said Baldrey. “For a number of others, not as active, not paying as much attention, this comes as a big surprise to them. This lost pay could start mounting up substantially. We’re talking about thousands of dollars of lost wages that they’re not likely to get back through a wage increase from the provincial government.”

Regardless of whether schools are shut, the education minister pledged on Thursday that final exams will be marked and grades will be distributed to all of B.C.’s graduating students.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Thursday that the government will take “whatever steps” necessary to ensure critical studies are completed.

“The commitment, without any hesitation, is they will be able to finish their year, their exams, the marking of those exams – and that is not something that will be open to discussion,” he told reporters.

WATCH: Will students be able to take their exams? Keith Baldrey explains

Details hadn’t yet been cemented, Fassbender said.

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The union earlier this week reduced its wage demands to about 12 per cent over four years, according to a spokesman, while the employer has offered a 7.3 per cent hike over six years.

A government spokesman, however, said its own math on the union’s demand puts the proposal at 14.7 per cent when compounded, or closer to about 19 per cent when other compensation costs are factored in.

The contract expired one year ago.

The parties were engaging in bargaining talks again Thursday, and Fassbender said the government is in no rush to legislate teachers back to work.

As for the prospects of a full-scale strike, Baldrey says that it would likely start on June 16 or 17 – and it will likely be approved.

“I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t pass,” “The BCTF has a pretty good history of delivering.”

– With files from Global News

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