Kootenay Lake school trustees will tell bargaining agents in the ongoing teacher dispute that job action is resulting in higher absenteeism amongst both teachers and principals.
But union reps called the decision this week to write both the BC Public School Employers Association and BC Teachers Federation “hasty” and unfounded.
The board heard Tuesday that absence due to illness in the district is up 12.5 per cent among teachers this year compared to the five-year average, and up 19.7 per cent among administrators, who have taken on additional duties during the work-to-rule campaign.
Superintendent Jeff Jones called the numbers “staggering.”
“I am very, very concerned,” he said, attributing the figures at least partly to the strike. He added that as the dispute enters its fourth month, the public seems blissfully unaware.
“I don’t think people understand the urgency of this situation,” he said. “It’s got to end. It boggles my mind that people in the community don’t know teachers are on strike.”
Trustees agreed to tell both sides, as well as the government, about the negative impacts of the job action, including increased absentee rates.
Lenora Trenaman said she was frustrated with any increase of illness, regardless of the cause, and Annette Hambler-Pruden wondered who would fund the additional sick pay.
However, the decision to write the letter was challenged by teacher reps.
Becky Blair of the Kootenay Lake Teachers Association said she was “amazed” board members didn’t question the data. She said collectively the district has one of the oldest groups of teachers in the province, “so we are going to have more health issues.”
Tom Newell of the Nelson District Teachers Association said it was “hasty” of the board to pass the motion without getting other perspectives from partner groups.
“I think they’ll find the letter will be not factual enough to really garner much support,” he said. Newell added he “wholeheartedly disagrees” with the notion the dispute is making teachers sick: “I am not hearing anything to say this strike is stressing us out.”
He wasn’t so sure about administrators: “Their workload has changed, so it may be an impact. I have no idea. I know one has a back injury. That has nothing to do with job action.”
Newell says after 55 days of bargaining, the parties are entrenched, and the dispute may last all year unless an arbitrator or mediator intervenes. He says he’s telling members to be prepared for a long strike.
Both union reps suggested parents have been highly supportive, however, and since job action is designed not to disrupt studies, they feel they’ve succeeded if the public hasn’t noticed any difference.