Over 100 Teachers and CUPE members rally at Gyro Park

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
March 7th, 2012

More than 100 teachers, Canadian Union of Public Employees members, parents and even children gathered in Gyro Park, Grand Forks, to support the teachers’s strike and protest against Bill 22, which will impose on the teachers’s rights to negotiate a contract.

The large and enthusiastic group marched into the park at noon on Tuesday, March 6 after taking a walk down Central Avenue to the tune of honking horns and waving hands. A police car even went by and gave the crowd a supporting flash of the lights and a light blast of the siren. They played inspiring music like Respect sung by Aretha Franklin and listened to speeches by local union representatives while munching on free hotdogs.

The event was sponsored by (CUPE) Local 2098 School District 51 Haida Boundary to support the teachers’s decision to hold a three-day strike.

“To my sisters and brothers: Bill 22 is a bad apple for everyone,” said Susan Blair, former CUPE Local 2098 president and current regional vice president for CUPE B.C. to the gathered crowd.

We all need to stick together. If Bill 22 is passed, it will be bad for all working people in this province.

“Take a stand against Bill 22,” said Janet Thorpe, CUPE Local 2098 president. “This is an act on free collective bargaining and we need to stand together to fight it… We need to ask the B.C. Liberal government to return free collective bargaining so students can return to the classrooms.”

Boundary District Teachers’s Association president Norm Sabourin said Bill 22 violates constitutional law and basic human rights.

“We can’t let this happen because it is fundamentally wrong,” said Sabourin. “Bill 22 will effectively muzzel the voice of teachers to speak out.”

David Dunnet, a strike committee member and a teacher at Grand Forks Secondary School, made a powerful speech at the rally and urged teachers to continue the fight and the legacy of those before them. For him, this strike was not all about money or the size of his classroom, although those things also matter. It was about what is right.

I stand here because we’re apart of a legacy and one small part of the Canadian labour movement. Because of the sacrifices of the past we can fight to organize and stike. Bill 22 will take it all back and will deny us the right to strike. This is a right we should all hold dear.

“We must go out and stay out until the day is done. We must live up to the legacy that has been handed to us. I stand here because of that legacy. I stand here to take back my right.”

Part of that legacy is retired Grand Forks teacher Bill Duff. During Duff’s career the contract teachers operate under developed from being a two page document outlining salaries and dental plans to what it is today.

“It’s wrong,” he said of Bill 22. “We have to look after our agreement. It is the only thing that stands between you and anarchy in our education system.”

The province’s 40,000 teachers have been without a contract since June 2011 and negotiating one with the government since March 2011.

Similiar rallies, including one on the lawn of the provincial legislature in Victoria, were held across the province. Two local teachers were present at the Victoria protest.

On the last day of the strike, Wednesday March 7, teachers will continue the protest but out in front of their schools including Christina Lake Elementary. Schools will re-open and buses will run on Thursday, March 8 at the usual times.

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