Hundreds of teachers and supporters gathered on Friday at Rotary Stadium as part of a rally during the ongoing B.C. teachers’ strike.
The rally, organized by the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association, brought together teachers from across the city who walked along Trethewey Street, South Fraser Way, Gladwin Road and George Ferguson Way.
In addition to teachers, there were family members, supporters and members of the B.C. Nurses’ Union in attendance.
Teachers began rotating strikes in May and a full-scale walk-out began on June 17.
Tyler Horner, a Grade 7 teacher at the Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts, said while teachers want to get back in the classroom, they are on the picket lines “fighting for a worthy cause.”
He said that while it has been difficult for teachers financially to continue the strike without pay, it is necessary for them to continue to press for issues including class size and composition.
Last week, veteran mediator Vince Ready walked away from the exploratory negotiations, saying the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the government were at “an impasse” and simply too far apart – particularly on wages and benefits – for mediation to be productive.
BCTF president Jim Iker said at the time that the two sides are just one per cent apart on wages. The government offer is seven per cent over six years, while the union wants eight per cent over five.
But Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the BCTF demand is still nearly twice what other public sector unions have settled for once benefit demands are included.
The province has also taken a $1,200 signing bonus off the table, while the union still wants $5,000, which makes up a big chunk of what the government says is a $300-million gulf between the positions.
The province has offered a $75-million Learning Improvement Fund to help address special needs but the union wants much more for special needs and to settle grievances.
Horner said the issue of class composition – the number of students with special needs in a class – continues to be a struggle for teachers. He said many students require individualized education programs and with teachers’ resources strained “it’s getting harder to serve kids.”
Julia Redshaw, a learning services and support teacher, said that of 400 students, about 20 per cent have special needs.
She said schools have to support special needs students with “minuscule resources,” which takes them away from other students.
“It’s not acceptable for another generation to go through (an underfunded system).”
The issue of class size and composition dates back to 2002, when the Liberal government removed those conditions from the BCTF contract.