B.C. teachers call for binding arbitration to end strike

Education minister immediately pans the proposal

VANCOUVER — The head of B.C.’s teachers’ union is calling on the provincial government to agree to binding arbitration to end a strike that would get students back to school.

Jim Iker says that’s the only solution after efforts at mediation failed last weekend, leading to mounting frustration for teachers who want to teach and families who want their children back in classrooms.

He says the union will ask members to vote on ending their strike if the government agrees to binding arbitration, though the education minister has already panned the idea.

Iker says that along with agreeing to binding arbitration, the government would have to drop its proposal to keep class size and composition at current levels.

The union has already won two court victories on that issue, though the government has appealed the latest ruling, with a hearing scheduled for next month.

Iker says that as part of its request for binding arbitration, the union wants new money for more teachers and specialist teachers to improve learning conditions for students.

B.C.’s education minister swept aside the proposal by the teachers’ union to immediately enter into binding arbitration and end a strike that’s delayed the start of the school year.

Peter Fassbender was responding to an offer earlier Friday by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, saying he does not relish giving responsibility for hashing out a contract to a third party.

He says the province has already had a bad experience with arbitration leading to long-lasting budget ramifications after it raised taxes to pay for a deal but it refuses to do that now to help settle a dispute with a union.

Fassbender says getting students back to class can happen if the B.C. Teachers’ Federation makes a realistic and affordable proposal that falls in line with agreements made with 150,000 other public-sector workers.

Union president Jim Iker says the BCTF is willing to relinquish control of several demands, including wages, benefits and preparation time to an arbitrator, although Fassbender says he hasn’t seen any details of the proposal.

Iker says that if the government agreed to binding arbitration, the union would ask its more than 40,000 teachers to take a vote on ending the strike, and that could allow half a million students to start school.