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Teachers taking vote Monday and Tuesday on whether to escalate strike action

Cowichan District Teachers
Cowichan District Teachers' Association president Naomi Nilsson checks out the picket line outside Cowichan Secondary School.
— image credit: Don Bodger/file

The possibility of going to a full-scale walkout will be determined when Cowichan School District 79 teachers join others around the province in a vote Monday and Tuesday.

A strong enough mandate would allow teachers to give 72-hour notice of Stage 3 job action by Wednesday in their nasty contract dispute with the provincial government, making a full-scale walkout option available by the following Monday, June 16. The two sides remain far apart at the bargaining table.

Naomi Nilsson, president of the Cowichan DIstrict Teachers' Association, said it's the last thing teachers wanted, but they aren't getting anywhere in attempts at reaching a settlement.

"What it has done is it has completely demoralized the teaching staff,'' said Nilsson.

The government-imposed lockout compounded the situation and the 10% docked from teachers' pay during rotating strikes was ruled valid by the Labour Relations Board Wednesday.

"Teachers in Lake Cowichan will vote on Monday and Tuesday, but will do so with a heavy heart.'' Chris Rolls, president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers' Association, indicated.

"We, like teachers throughout B.C., have not wanted to have to take any job action, but did so while trying to have minimal impact on students. BCPSEA's lockout is the action preventing teachers from working with students during lunch time, and limits how much time we can be at school before and after bell times. It is the lockout that has prevented teachers from volunteering on their own time to help kids. The LRB ruling allows BCPSEA to continue preventing teachers from working with students during their own time.''

The dispute is clearly reaching the boiling point with the end of the school year rapidly approaching.

"We want it done by June,'' said Nilsson. "It's so hard on our teachers and our students as well. We want the government to bring the resources to the bargaining table.''

Nilsson said if teachers vote favourably on Stage 3 job action, they might opt for two or more strike days a week as an intermediary step.

"I believe the reason for this is if things are moving at the bargaining table, we have options or if things are going well, we can call things off.''

But right now, there is far more uncertainty than anything else.

"I don't know how the government thinks provincial exams are going to be marked,'' said Nilsson.

Some students rallied in the valley Wednesday as a means of showing their displeasure with the dispute.

A large group of Cowichan Secondary Quamichan Campus students made a presence along Beverly Street. Frances Kelsey vice-principal Lori Hryniuk noted there was a smattering of students on Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road.

Nilsson said there was a rally planned at the Cowichan District School board office Thursday afternoon. B.C. Teachers' Federation second vice president Teri Mooring planned to attend.

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