Unions back striking teachers with rallies in Kamloops and Victoria

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
March 6, 2012 01:00 AM

Hundreds rally at Columbia and Summit during the noon hour Tuesday to support striking teachers.

What began as fight between teachers and the province has become a matter of importance for many B.C. workers as several unions joined educators at rallies provincewide.

A rally took place in Victoria on Tuesday morning with more than 5,000 people meeting on the lawn in front of the Legislature in protest of Bill 22.

About 140 members of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Union joined the masses. President Jason Karpuk said he saw representatives from the United Steelworkers, B.C. Government Employers' Association and the B.C. Nurses Union, among others.

"There's a huge number of flags," Karpuk said during a phone interview. "The sheer number of people in attendance is impressive, and they just keep coming."

Karpuk hadn't heard about the government's threat to seek an injunction against striking teachers for mounting what Finance Minister Kevin Falcon called illegal picket lines outside the government buildings.

"We will be seeking penalties at the Labour Relations Board," said Falcon, adding he understands teachers want to "blow off some steam" and respects their right to protest.

"We are encouraging all staff to come to work as normal," Falcon said on the second day of the teachers' three-day strike.

Protesters met at Centennial Square and marched on the Legislature. At no time was anyone threatened or intimidated, said Karpuk. Nor, to the best of his knowledge, was government staff prevented from going to work.

The Labour Relations Board decided teachers are allowed to strike but not set up picket lines. Yet teachers are standing with signs and placards on street corners and outside schools during the walkout.

Deborah Stewart, spokeswoman for the province's bargaining agent B.C. Public School Employers' Association, said the line between a protest and strike is thin.

As long as teachers aren't intimidating school staff and administration, barring employees from going to work, and acting in a threatening manner, they aren't technically picketing, she said.

If that kind of behaviour is going on, school districts need to contact the association so a complaint can be filed with the labour board, said Stewart.

"So far we're hearing nothing of great significance," she said.

Nor has staff complained to administrators at the Kamloops-Thompson School District. Supt. Terry Sullivan said support workers, principals and vice principals are able to work without disruption.

"They're all there. They've had no issues reporting to work," said Sullivan.

Many rallies occur off school property, as was the case during the noon hour Tuesday when more than 250 union supporters gathered at the corner of Columbia Street and Summit Drive.

Representatives from several union locals, including CUPE 3500 and Thompson Rivers University's Faculty Association, took part.

CUPE 3500 president John Hall said the rally was held in tandem with the protest in Victoria as a sign of solidarity between workers.

Hall told the boisterous group that Bill 22, which the province introduced last week in hope of bringing a teachers' strike to an end, is just the beginning.

If Bill 22 is successful, Hall fears it will be used against other unions as well.

"We've got to stand up and say something," he said, earning a cheer from the crowd.

One person yelled out that unions Canada wide need to walk off the job together in protest. People clapped in approval.

Another rally takes place Wednesday in front of the downtown Kamloops Law Courts at 3 p.m. Teachers are expected to return to work on Thursday.

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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