Supreme Court Ruling

BC Supreme Court finds BC Teacher’s Federation in Contempt of Court for going on Strike.

The following was clipped from David Schreck’s web page.
October 6, 2005

Teachers’ Civil Disobedience

“They could threaten to put me in prison.”
Jenny Sims, BCTF President, quoted in The Province, October 6, 2005

There is one important ambiguity in what Sims said; who are “they”? They are not the government. Governments used to include nasty penalties in back to work legislation, but modern labour law puts the really mean stuff over to the courts.

Sims and the BCTF executive may be stubborn but they aren’t stupid. They know that the employers’ association will attempt to get a ruling from the Labour Relations Board by Thursday afternoon, and that the employers will certainly succeed in getting an order by Friday afternoon that a full scale withdrawal of services is an illegal strike. The order will then be registered in BC Supreme Court where the union will be called up on charges of contempt of court for failing to abide by the order. If the union directs its members to return to work immediately, it might get off with a finding of civil contempt and relatively minor fines. If the job action continues, the union and its officers could be found in criminal contempt of court with substantial fines and jail sentences.

Case law on “illegal strikes” was made in Alberta when the United Nurses of Alberta went on strike in January, 1988, contrary to directives made under the Alberta Labour Relations Act forbidding the strike; they were found to be in criminal contempt of court and fined $400,000. In 1992 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the criminal contempt of court; a dissenting opinion said:

“The conduct of the union leadership was not sufficient to transform the civil contempt into criminal contempt. The element of public injury was missing from the breach of the order. The nurses neither flaunted their disobedience of the order nor presented any threat of violence. The diffidence of their spokesperson in discussing the matter with press indicated that the union did not intend to bring the administration of justice into a disrepute or hold it up to scorn.”
The fact that the teachers are willing to risk fines and jail shows how angry they are with the Campbell government for using legislation to break their contract and remove their right to bargain working and learning conditions, class size, number of special needs students per class, whether special needs students must have assistance and other matters that are crucial to how classrooms function.

Many of the civil rights we take for granted were only achieved because someone was willing to take on the establishment with civil disobedience. The teachers are at the threshold of deciding how far they will go with their civil disobedience. The government could defuse the conflict by agreeing to discuss working and learning conditions at a separate table, as recommended by its fact finder, or it can stand back and let the process unfold, complete with the court process. Those who engage in civil disobedience have to be ready to accept the consequences. It looks like the teachers are prepared.

A slightly different version was published in The Tyee.

Sunday, October 9, 2005
Posted at 8:15 PM EDT>

Vancouver; A B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled Sunday that the province’s public school teachers were in contempt of court after they launched a walkout that shut down British Columbia’s schools. The B.C. Public School Employers Association was seeking to have the B.C. Teachers’ Federation found in contempt of a Labour Relation Board ruling on Friday that said teachers are involved in an illegal job action.

“I declare that the teachers are in contempt of the order of Oct. 6; Justice Nancy Brown said on Sunday. No citizen or group of citizens may choose which orders they may obey,” Judge Brown said.

The judge asked lawyers to return on Thursday so penalties can be decided. Association lawyer Nazeer Mitha called Friday’s walkout by unionized teachers;premeditated and deliberate. He asked that the union produce its financial statements at Thursday’s hearing.

Association lawyer Michael Hancock said the union is paying $2-million a day in strike pay to its members.

No union officials attended the rare Sunday sitting of the court and after the ruling, their lawyer, John Rogers, said he did not know whether the teachers would return to their classes or the picket lines on Tuesday.

Mr. Rogers had told the court earlier he had been advised by the federation that teachers intended to continue with their walkout.

The province’s 42,000 teachers set up pickets on Friday, keeping more than 600,000 students from their lessons.

However, the union is expected to go before the province’s Labour relations Board on Tuesday, asking it to reconsider its ruling on the legality of their strike. “They have gone from full bargaining rights to no rights in collective bargaining,” he said.

The rest of this story can be found at The Globe and Mail

A Parent who supports the teachers

“Why I’m a parent who supports the teachers’ Strike.” By Gabriel YiuFrom
Why I’m a Parent Who Supports the Teachers’ Strike
Link to The Tyee
Published: 2005-10-06 20:14:00

By Gabriel Yiu
It’s a ‘teaching moment’ for all of us.
Teachers will walk off the job today, and they vow to stay out as long as it takes to resolve the dispute. Like many parents, I am worried about how this will affect my kids’ learning and what disruptions to my daily life it may bring.

Nevertheless, after researching the subject and listening to some stakeholders of education in a public forum coordinated and moderated by myself prior to the teachers’ strike vote, I have to declare that I am in support of the teachers’ labour action.

First, the strike vote is overwhelmingly supported by nearly nine out of 10 teachers. The majority of teachers are not “radical”, “aggressive” or “militant”, as a Liberal MLA once branded them; they are teachers in our classrooms, teachers who teach and care for our kids. They made the choice because they were fed up with the government. The terms dictated by the government are simply unacceptable.

The demands made by teachers for their contract renewal are clear, declared Jinny Sims, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, at the forum attended by 100 concerned citizens. Those demands are, in order of priority: an improved classroom learning environment, a negotiated settlement, and a reasonable wage increase.

In the forum, Liberal MLA Richard Lee and BCTF President Jinny Sims provided conflicting views of the situation of our classroom. Lee cited all the funding increase figures and how class size has been protected by their legislation, while the BCTF president described a gloomy scenario in our schools. Sims declared that what they asked for is increased support for our school system, back to the level of 2002.

Inside Richmond’s classrooms

Puzzled by the conflicting messages, Chak Au, a Richmond school trustee, confirmed the real problems in today’s classroom: bigger class size and more special-need students. Au also verified the unsatisfactory scenes as illustrated by Daphne Bramham’s recent column in the Vancouver Sun. Classes are flooded with too many kids; each could include eight to ten special needs kids (only three were allowed before).

A report released by the parent organization B.C. Society for Public Education, confirms the fact that a heavy burden has been placed on parents who are relied upon to raise funds for school resources; which include such basic needs as buying textbooks.

At variance with Lee’s figures on funding increase, Au stated that Richmond’s teaching force has been cut 10% while student enrolment has dropped by only 2%. School trustees from Vancouver and Burnaby who attended the forum also corroborated Au’s evidence with respect to the situation in their own school district.

Spreading false rumours

In order to win public opinion, the government negotiator spread the news that teachers demanded a 35% raise, but the rumour is adamantly denied by Sims. The rumor has distracted the public from the real issue, i.e. the fairness of four years’ zero increase (a new three-year contract with zero increment, plus this year without a contract due to the expiry of the old one).

As a small business owner, if I inform my employees that they will not receive any raise for four years, despite the fact that the company is making record profit, what will be the consequence? Workers will leave. Those who stay will be demoralized and their performance will be undermined.

When BC was under a record deficit, the government gave teachers a 7.5% raise over three years. With record surplus and a higher cost of living, the government determines that teachers do not deserve any raise. How can teachers swallow it? BC has the most expensive housing and the highest cost of living, but our teachers’ wages are way behind Ontario and Alberta.

By dictating such harsh terms, the Liberal government is responsible for the teachers’ labor action.

Worse, the government’s legislated contract settlement has triggered a severe reaction from teachers. In the BCTF’s earlier released three-stage job action plan, Oct 11-20 is scheduled for rotating strikes and Oct 24 for a full-scale strike. Thanks to the BC Liberals, we now face a full-scale, indefinite strike.

Worth the sacrifice

Given the ruthless terms on the legislation with zero wage increase and no improvement on classroom conditions, teachers have every right to be mad.

The Liberal government’s essential service legislation in 2002 has been condemned by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization as a contravention of international labor standards to which Canada is a signatory. The B.C. government’s latest attempt to buy full-page advertisements to deny the problems teachers are facing in their classrooms is another slap on the face. Teachers were seen crying in their staff rooms when they learned about the government-imposed contract settlement Bill 12.

When the Liberals released their first Throne Speech earlier, they put education at the top of their five great goals. Judging by the way they treat teachers, one cannot help but wonder about the credibility of their promise.

No one wants to see a strike. Nevertheless, we should be aware of the fact that all the rights and privileges that we take for granted today have been gained by means of protests. If the teachers’ job action can force the provincial government to return our education resources to the 2002 level, a short-term sacrifice for a long-term stable and sustainable classroom environment is worthy of our support.

Gabriel Yiu is an award-winning commentator and a former columnist for the Vancouver Sun, Business in Vancouver and Ming Pao. He writes for Chinese newspapers World Journal & Global Chinese Press. He and his wife run a florist business and he ran as an NDP candidate in Burnaby-Willingdon in the last provincial election.