NSTU votes in favour of illegal job action, wants meeting with minister, premier

Education minister, teachers union head see path to progress on inclusion report

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union's executive announced most of its members voted in favour of illegal job action, but president Liette Doucet said the union is inviting the province to work with it.

"We want Minister Churchill and the premier to meet with us to discuss the recommendations of the Glaze report," Doucet said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Ninety-three per cent of the union's public school members voted and 82.5 per cent supported illegal job action, which means nearly 77 per cent of eligible teachers voted to strike.

"They made this decision knowing they could face a loss of pay and heavy fines," Doucet said. "They're so concerned for their students and the future of education in this province they're willing to accept hardship in hopes that it will demonstrate to the government that the only way forward is through meaningful consultation."

Doucet did not specify what kind of illegal job action teachers would take if government didn't respond.

"We want some kind of agreement that will really ensure for us that the government is slowing down, putting a halt to what it's doing and doing what is best for our students," she said.

She committed to giving parents notice of any job action, but wouldn't say how much notice. If the union was in a legal strike position, they would be required to give 48 hours notice.

"They will have enough notice that they will be able to make arrangements necessary for child care if they need that," Doucet said.

She said she wanted to wait until the end of the school day to release the result of the vote.

"We waited until the end of the day because teachers are teaching. We didn't want to cause a distraction. They're very anxious to learn what the results of the vote were today," Doucet said.

The online poll opened at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and closed at 8 p.m.

In order to walk off the job, the union needed the support of half of all voters, not half of its more than 10,000 members.

Education minister wants to meet with union

Education Minister Zach Churchill said he plans to meet with the union, but that the province intends to move forward with the Glaze report recommendations. He said the premier is also interested in talking to the union.

He met with reporters later Wednesday afternoon to take questions about the NSTU's vote.

"We will absolutely continue that conversation and meet with the union again," Churchill said. "We do need to have some meaningful conversation on what the solutions are to the challenges that we have."

Churchill said teachers have tough jobs and have been "dealing with a very complex classroom" and that the province has "not done a good enough job supporting them in terms of having behavioural supports, health supports that are required."

"We know it's not easy out there but we also know the status quo from an administrative perspective isn't doing the best either for the kids," he said.

When asked if he would hold off on moving forward with Glaze report recommendations, Churchill said he would need to speak with the union first to see where it's at "in terms of looking at solutions."

Churchill said his government has already adjusted its position by giving administrators another year in the union and slowing down the creation of an independent assessment office. 

"We have made some offers that have come from these conversations with the union and from my meeting with teachers and principals and community members from across the province as well," he said.

The NSTU announced the strike vote last week over the Liberal government's plan to implement a consultant's report that will usher in sweeping changes to the province's education system.

Nova Scotia's Education Department has said the teachers' current contract agreement is in place until July 31, 2019, and any job action undertaken while that contract is in place would be illegal.

The contract was imposed on teachers last year through Bill 75, legislation the union is challenging in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Teachers and the union would face fines if they go on an illegal strike.

Nova Scotia's Teachers' Collective Bargaining Act states the penalty for breaking the act is up to $10,000 for a union. If a union goes on strike, it also faces up to $300 in fines each day of the strike.

The NSTU has been vocal about its concerns with a recent report by education consultant Avis Glaze, and the government's plan to implement it.

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