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BC teachers vote 86 per cent to ratify new deal; school to open next week

Teachers at Trafalgar lined up for a team photo during the final day of picket duty outside the Uphill-based school Thursday. — photo courtesy Madeleine Guenette

It’s official.

BC Public School students will be back in the classroom as soon as next week.

Thursday, 86 percent of the membership agreed to the tentative agreement hammered out between the BC Teachers Federation and the bargaining agent for the provincial government, BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) early Tuesday morning.

BCTF president made the announcement via lifestream from the union’s office Thursday evening.

“Tonight, I’m pleased to announced that BC teachers have ratified the agreement that was reached on (Tuesday) September 16th,” Iker said.

“A total of 31,741 of our members cast ballots,” Iker added. “In all 27,275, or 86 precent of our members voted “Yes”.’

Approximately 41,000 teachers were eligible to vote.

Iker said the ratification clears the way for schools to re-open after a bitter three-month labour dispute.

“With the ratification of the new collective agreement the strike and lockout are now over,” he said. “Teachers and students will be back in school on Monday.”

In the Kootenay Lake School District, the board decided to wait until after the teachers voted before committing to a scheduled timeline of when schools in the district would open.

A message on the Kootenay Lake School Board website told parents and students “teachers would be back in the classrooms Friday if the 41,000 teachers ratified the tentative agreement.”

The message went on to say the board will release final details Friday on the timeline for students returning to class.

Other B.C. public school districts — Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey, and Delta — said orientation days would be held Monday and classes would start Tuesday.

Iker said re-opening schools would be up to the districts.

“Most school districts are having school on Monday,” he said. “It’s up to districts if it's part of the day or most of the day.”

The tentative agreement was a six-year deal with a 7.25 per cent wage increase with no retroactive pay..

Teachers instead will get two per cent more this month plus another 1.25 per cent in January. There will be additional raises will follow in July 2016 and then roughly every year until 2019.

Extended health and dental benefits will get an $11.9-million boost while teacher on-call (TOC) rates will be increased and elementary school teachers received 100 minutes of prep time a week.

There is also extra funds including a $105-million fund will be established to settle grievances from the ongoing court case and a $400-million education fund will go toward improving classroom conditions, which will include hiring as many as 850 new teachers a year.

Iker said teachers should be praised for walking the picket line and putting up a solid fight against the employer.

“This was a very tough round of negotiations, and difficult time for many of us on strike but together we successfully pushed back against concessions and we have merged as a stronger and more engaged union,” he said.

“Your strength on the picket lines and passion for our profession helped make the gains this week that were not possible at any other point for the last three months.”

Minister of Education Peter Fassbender took to Twitter to release a statement, “on behalf of the government, I want to thanks and congratulate B.C. teachers for voting in favour of the agreement reached earlier this week between the BCTF and BCPSEA bargaining teams.”

“We have one of the best educations systems in the world, and that’s in large part because we have such great teachers.”

"We can now focus on the path forward. This long-term agreement is an historic opportunity to work together for students — to enhance their education experience and to support their achievements."