Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 18, 2002
Teachers may go out on strike in 2 more Catholic districts
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Teachers from two new Catholic divisions could join the current teachers strike as the province-wide labour dispute enters its third week.
Teachers from the Medicine Hat Catholic Regional Division have been in a strike position since mid-January and could strike within 72 hours notice.
Ray West, president of the separate teachers' union, said teachers may serve strike notice sometime the week of Feb. 18. More than 86 per cent of the division's 156 teachers have voted in favour of strike action.
Living Waters Catholic Regional Division, near Calgary, is scheduled to conduct a strike vote Feb. 25.
Catholic districts of St. Albert, Fort McMurray, Calgary, Grande Prairie and the Lethbridge-based Holy Spirit Catholic Division are already off the job.
Including public teachers, almost 15,000 teachers across Alberta are currently on strike, demanding higher pay and lower student ratios. More than 250,000 students are affected by the strike, which started Feb. 4.
Larry Booi, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said the provincial government could solve the dispute by increasing funding for education.
"The problem is the lack of willingness on the part of the government to spend on education," Booi said.
The government has budgeted for a six-per-cent increase over two years. Teachers want about 20 per cent - similar to what was given to nurses, doctors and politicians last year.
"Our teachers would have been in a position to strike on Feb. 4 but they haven't given us notice yet," said Medicine Hat superintendent Guy Tetrault.
Like Red Deer Catholic, Medicine Hat could use reserve money to meet the teachers' salary demands but the board is reluctant to do that.
"To match that (Red Deer) settlement we would be in real trouble," Tetrault said. "We would have to deplete all our reserves plus maybe even look at a little bit of cutting."
Tetrault believes Catholic teachers have postponed strike plans because their public counterparts are not in a position to strike and they don't want to go it alone.
He also believes that despite the overwhelming strike vote, "many of our teachers don't really want to strike."
West, president of the local union, said the fact public teachers in the area are not in a position to strike "has no bearing on what we are going to do."
He said the only reason Medicine Hat Catholic teachers have not used their right to strike is because the board already addressed issues such as class size and room conditions. The union is now hoping it uses its $1.2 million surplus to meet their salary demands.
"They are saving that surplus for a rainy day. Let me tell you, it's pouring right now," West said. "In fact it may be time to start building an ark."
In light of the strike, the Holy Spirit board is offering Grade 12 students access to distance learning to continue their studies.