FOULDS: Refusing to volunteer does nothing to further BCTF cause
Via a vote of its members, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has reaffirmed its commitment to have its teachers stop volunteering for sports and other activities after school hours.
I remain of the opinion this decision will do little to further the union’s cause and do much to hurt students who want to play sports, plan graduation ceremonies and practise music and drama after hours.
After all, it is clear the B.C. Liberals will not budge from their Bill 22 stance and depriving kids of supervision and coaching/teaching outside of classroom hours will do nothing to help the BCTF on the optics front.
However, after having a talk with Jason Karpuk, president of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association, I have a better idea of why the union feels it needs to do this — though I still remain not convinced it is a decision that merits applause.
Karpuk is obviously passionate about the cause and, though pressed for time while in union meetings in Penticton and bombarded with calls from media while on the line with me, he managed to talk for as long as I needed — which was a good 15 minutes or so.
First, to the vote by teachers last week.
There are about 41,000 BCTF members.
Of those, 21,625 voted in favour of protest action that includes full withdrawal from extracurricular activities, work on defeating the B.C. Liberal government in the 2013 election campaign and the possibility of a full strike, pending another vote in the future.
Another 7,846 voted against the plan. That leaves about 12,000 teachers who did not vote, which means about half of all teachers eligible to vote cast a ballot in favour of the protest action. The other half voted against or chose not to vote.
Based on the numbers, hardly a case of sending a “powerful message,” as proclaimed by BCTF president Susan Lambert.
However, Karpuk believes a 72 per cent turnout — with 73 per cent of those voting with the union’s protest plan — is indeed convincing.
Consider, Karpuk said, voter-turnout numbers in federal, provincial and municipal election.
Now, to the issue at hand — teachers deciding to withdraw extracurricular activities for the rest of the year as a way to protest Bill 22.
If teachers decide to coach or teach or supervise after-hours — as at least two in Vancouver have publicly vowed to do — any discipline is left up to local associations, according to Karpuk.
In the Kamloops-Thompson school district, there has not been a case in which the association has had to address such breaches in solidarity, though Karpuk did say there have been instances in which teachers have been spoken to “member-to-member,” with an explanation of why the union wishes to have its members retain solidarity.
“It has been handled with that explanation and left at that,” Karpuk said.
As for the decision to withdraw extracurricular services, when it will not change the B.C. Liberal stance?
Karpuk said the protest action is intended to show the public what it is teachers do out of a passion for their profession as opposed to what they are required to do by the fine print of their contract.
“It draws attention to the fact that, if we are going to be disrespected, why would be volunteer in a system that disrespects us?”
This stance will certainly anger many and draw applause from others outside the teachers' union. The same can be said for within the union as that divide is evident in the BCTF voting numbers.
Karpuk did touch on issues in the classroom, issues other than salary and coaching.
He mentioned teachers having to buy supplies and teachers who have to buy computers. There are teachers who buy food to give to students who come to school hungry.
Those issues, and the well-covered class-size and class-composition debate, are the real issues, the true concerns upon which this labour impasse should be focused.
Karpuk said as much, but the union, by engaging in a protest that does nothing but hurt students, is only helping to take attention away from what matters most to its teachers and to the students they teach.