Abbotsford teachers join province-wide demonstration

Teachers across the district have joined their colleagues across B.C. in day one of a three-day strike.

Teachers from Abbotsford Middle School join the province-wide strike on Monday.

Teachers from Abbotsford Middle School join the province-wide strike on Monday.

For Tara Landry, a Grade 8 teacher at Abbotsford Middle School, it’s not about wages.

She said she was standing in the rain with her colleagues in Abbotsford and across the province on day one of the three-day teachers’ strike because of the kids.

“We’re in the classrooms. We see first-hand what cuts to education do,” Landry said Monday morning. “If we don’t take a stand, it’s just going to deteriorate.”

She said manageable class sizes and extra support for students who need it are more important to her than a wage increase.

Landry was among a group of about a dozen Abby Middle teachers who stood at the corner of Bevan and Ware roads – across from their school – as numerous drivers honked their support and gave them the “thumbs up” sign.

The group handed out flyers and carried signs that read “I support public education” and “Your kids matter. Abbotsford’s teachers care.”

On site with them was Rick Guenther, former president of the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association who previously announced he will take on Susan Lambert for the presidency of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) later this month.

Guenther said Landry’s sentiments are common among striking teachers; it’s not about wages – 15 per cent over three years is just a “negotiating position,” he said – but deeper issues such as overcrowded classrooms and not enough special needs support.

He said the three-day demonstration shows solidarity among educators across the province.

“We have to speak in a unified voice on these matters.”

The BCTF served strike notice late last week after almost 28,000 teachers – out of 32,209 who voted – agreed to such action, running from Monday to Wednesday.

The B.C. government is trying to pass legislation (Bill 22,  the Education Improvement Act), which imposes a cooling-off period, an end to all strike and lockout activities, and the appointment of a mediator by the minister of education.

Teachers have been without a contract since last June. The government has maintained a “net zero” mandate, meaning that any contract agreements result in no additional costs to employers.

Jeff Dunton, president of the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association, said about 1,000 teachers across the district participated in the strike.

“The message I hope that people are getting is that Bill 22 takes away teachers’ rights and hurts kids,” he said.

Although parents have been advised to keep their kids at home during the strike, schools remain open to support staff.

School district spokesperson Dave Stephen said initial reports indicated that parents on Monday were abiding by the advisory, with only a few schools having a student or two show up.

Bud Loewen, president of the District Parents’ Advisory Council, said parents appear to more strongly support the teachers, but they are growing weary of how long a settlement is taking.

“Parents are getting tired of the adjustments in their timetables that they make to deal with the job action,” he said.

Students at several Abbotsford schools showed their support for teachers by holding a walkout on Friday afternoon. The protestors marched, chanted and waved signs at passing vehicles.