Nova Scotia Teachers Union set to vote on strike mandate

Teachers could strike this week if vote passes today, NSTU says

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has announced it will hold a strike vote next Tuesday — an unexpected and illegal retaliation against the Liberal government's move to enact sweeping changes to the province's education system.

The union says the decision is directly related to the plan to implement some of the recommendations in the recently released Avis Glaze report, aimed at overhauling Nova Scotia's education system and improving grades.

If teachers vote in favour of a strike mandate, it would clear the way for the union to start job action. However, it wouldn't necessarily mean the province's teachers would go on strike.

The NSTU recognizes that any job action would be illegal.

"Right now we are not in a legal strike position," said NSTU president Liette Doucet Tuesday. "However we have had votes for illegal strikes in the past."

Ready to consider all options

During last year's contract dispute with the province, teachers adopted work-to-rule, carrying out only the minimum amount of work required by their contract. 

"I'm not saying anything about any specific type of job action, however they're willing to consider all the options," Doucet said Tuesday.

In an email that went out to NSTU members outlining the strike mandate vote on Feb. 20, Doucet wrote that teachers could not "sit on our hands."

"We believe this will put us in a strong position to fight back against a government that refuses to consult and has a hard time listening," the email read.

Glaze report 'does nothing' for students: union 

The teacher's union says the changes proposed by the Glaze report will hurt students.

"This report does nothing," Doucet said. "The recommendations do nothing to make the improvements necessary to make sure students are successful."

When CBC News asked Doucet if she could offer an example of how a student could be negatively affected by a Glaze report recommendation, she wasn't able to do so.

"I'm not prepared to do that right now, but as we go through I may be able to come up with some scenarios that would really illustrate what we're talking about," she said.

"I think that our members agree the situation is dire, that we need to stand up to do what is necessary to protect public education."

'I really don't understand it' says education minister

In an email statement, the province's Education Department said the teachers' current contract agreement is in place until July 31, 2019, and "any job action undertaken while this is in place would be illegal."

Education Minister Zach Churchill told CBC News on Tuesday night he was surprised by the union's decision to ask for a strike mandate.

"We don't think that it is a rational act at this point," Churchill said.

"I really don't understand it. I know that there's disagreement, but disruption to our classes is not in the best interest of our kids or the public, and I really hope this isn't an action that's taken."

Churchill said the report suggests giving teachers more say over course materials, involving them in development of curriculum, and putting more resources into the classroom.

"I see all these things as being beneficial to the system or education and the delivery of education to our kids," he said.

"The last time we saw this sort of action taken, teachers were telling us that they needed change and the system needed to change."

Union held telephone town hall

The union held a telephone town hall Tuesday night for teachers to discuss the Glaze report's recommendations.

Doucet said teachers were concerned about the province's plan to remove school administrators from the NSTU.

"They're very concerned about how that will affect the schools, how it will affect the way we have worked since the union began. Administrators have always been part of the union," Doucet said.

There was little mention of a strike during the call since the focus was on the recommendations in the Glaze report, but many members expressed concerns about how the union would get its message out to the public in the most effective way.

"This is not about money and last year we heard lots of government rhetoric saying the teachers are after money," said Janine Kerr, assistant executive director of the NSTU, during the town hall. "To be really clear, this is about public education and saving it from a disastrous course."

The Glaze report, released last month, makes 22 recommendations, including dissolving Nova Scotia's seven elected regional school boards to create one provincial advisory council and moving principals and vice-principals out of the union.

Education Minister Zach Churchill has said the province will move forward with "the spirit and intent" of all the recommendations, but will initially start with 11 of them.