New Westminster teachers take to the picket line
As teachers walked the picket line at one New Westminster school in blustery, wet conditions Monday morning, a young man approached them carrying coffee and muffins to show his support.
Since he appeared to be in his early 20s it would have been a significant expense, said New Westminster Teachers' Union president Grant Osborne, making his support even more meaningful.
Osborne said the first day of the planned three-day strike went extremely well, despite the rain and wind. Plenty of passersby honked their horns in support, said Osborne, buoying the spirits of those carrying signs.
"The membership is very upbeat. They felt real good about the response," said Osborne shortly after doing a tour of all the school sites in the city. "It's been very uplifting for people."
He believes the public support tide turned in favour of the teachers when the government introduced Bill 22 last week. Once it is passed it will no longer allow teachers to strike, and imposes a mediator on both sides with the restriction of enforcing the province's "zero net" policy for government wage contracts.
"It takes away the rights of teachers which hurts kids. It came down when both sides had agreed to go to mediation and that would have been a good sign," said Osborne. "It has punitive fines if there is a continuation of the strike, and the government gets to choose the mediator and terms of reference. It is a gutting of our contract with a government-appointed mediator who really isn't a mediator."
Osborne also said the bill erodes the numbers on class size and composition.
"It's a very egregious piece of legislation and we hope the public will realize this and speak out," he said.
New Westminster superintendent John Woudzia said everything went smoothly at all of its schools Monday morning. He said only two students showed up for school throughout the district and they were supervised by administration staff.
"Basically it appears our families did understand the message we put out over the weekend about the schools being open but not instruction taking place," said Woudzia.
The district warned parents that although schools would remain open there would not be enough staff on hand to supervise students and advised parents find alternative child care.
The Westminster Children's After School Society did offer a school-day program for children already registered in their out-of-school programs.