The province's 41,000 public school teachers have agreed on a new deal with the province, ending a bitter labour dispute that began more than a year ago.
Teachers voted 15,809 to 5,192 in favour of accepting terms of a new contract that will expire on June 30, 2013, avoiding the government's plan to impose a contract if a negotiated settlement was not achieved. There were 21,044 ballots cast with 43 spoiled.
The BC Teachers Federation and the BC Public School Employers' Association ended weeks of negotiations with mediator Charles Jago Tuesday evening when they announced a tentative agreement, which was then taken to BCTF members for approval.
"I kind of expected a yes vote," said Matt Pearce, president of the Prince George District Teachers Association. "I'm surprised it was a three-to-one margin. I thought it would be closer than that."
Pearce said despite the positive acceptance of the new contract many teachers still have concerns that weren't addressed.
"It may be back to normal but I still think there are a lot of teachers who are very disappointed the issues around class size and composition that can really affect our students haven't been touched, even a little bit," said Pearce. "In fact things are likely to get worse next year. I think some teachers will continue to not do extracurricular [activities], but it'll be a personal choice and not done as a vote of the membership."
In Prince George, teachers voted Thursday at a general meeting at Vanier Hall. Voting also took place at the downtown union office ballot box, which closed Friday at 1 p.m. While local voting results will not be released, Pearce said the teacher turnout was significantly lighter than previous votes on job actions.
"One of the reasons was we normally have a ballot box at every school, which makes it that much more accessible, but we didn't have time to organize that this vote," Pearce said. "Because we didn't have them at the schools we didn't get the turnout we're used to.
"Some locals kept their ballot boxes open until 5 p.m., but we had to have the vote counted are reported to the BCTF by 7. It's been a very difficult decision, and I know there have been votes on both sides."
Under the province's net-zero mandate for all public sectors, the new deal does not provide for any wage increase for teachers. It does include a standardized benefits package and provides several concessions for teachers to obtain leave from their regular duties. It removes concessions on teacher evaluations, how vacant positions are filled, and the handling of layoffs and recalls, which were all part of the Bill 22 legislation.
The labour dispute began with preliminary negotiations in March 2011 and festered over the summer, leading into the start of the school year. In September, teachers began their job action by cancelling recess, withdrawing from all nonessential meetings with administration and holding back on supervisory duties.
After a lengthy stalemate in negotiations, the government responded in March by introducing Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, which made it illegal for teachers to strike. Teachers escalated their job action by voting 75 per cent in favour of walking off the job for three days, closing schools from March 5-7.
On March 28, the province appointed Jago as mediator, which the BCTF objected to because of Jago's previous work in developing education policies which have since been adopted by the government. The BCTF was unsuccessful in its request before the B.C. Labour Relations Board to have Jago removed.
In April, teachers agreed to withdraw from all extracurricular activities, an action they had planned to continue throughout the 2012-13 school year, which threatened to cancel the football, volleyball, and basketball seasons, all field trips outside of normal class time, and teacher participation in organizing graduation ceremonies.