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What could happen if NSTU votes yes on strike Feb. 20

Almost 100 teachers from across Annapolis County converged on Bridgetown Regional High School early Friday morning with picket signs as they took the first strike action in the history of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. They were protesting a legislated contract imposed on them after three contract ratification votes failed.
Teachers went on strike last year after a work-to-rule campaign and failed bargaining process with the province. They will vote again today, Feb. 20, on whether to take job action again this year. photo credit - Lawrence Powell

Last vote on illegal strike happened in 1995, strike was later avoided

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY – A lot could happen if the Nova Scotia Teachers Union votes to strike Feb. 20.

Union president Liette Doucet has not yet indicated when the vote’s results will be announced or what job action could look like but has said she believes teachers will vote to strike.

While voting on whether to strike is legal, job action for teachers is not. Within the terms set by 2015 Teachers’ Provincial Agreement, a collective agreement between teachers and the province which stands until July 31, 2019, striking could mean legal ramifications for the union, or individual teachers, according to the province.

Doucet said while teachers are aware of this, they may still vote in favour of job action.

Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet speaks to the media about the union’s upcoming strike vote. ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet speaks to the media about the union’s upcoming strike vote. ERIC WYNNE • THE CHRONICLE HERALD

“Teachers are very concerned about the future of education in this province and are willing and prepared at this point to take a stand,” she said.

Potential fines if yes vote results in strike

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development confirmed strikes are prohibited when collective agreements are in place, as outlined in the Teachers Collective Bargaining Act.

The act states breaches can lead to penalties of up to $1,000 per individual and up to $10,000 for union, and illegal strike activities could lead to fines of $200 or $300 per day for individuals, the union, or representatives, to be determined by the labour board.

Doucet said teachers are aware of potential repercussions and are willing to stand up regardless.

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill.

“At this point, we are just asking for a strike mandate. We are not in negotiations and are not in a legal position to strike, however that does not mean we can’t take any action,” she said, adding the union has several options for job action that don’t entail a strike with picket signs.

“We could look at a work to rule, a full walkout, rotating strikes, many other options.”

Not the first vote on an illegal strike

The teachers’ union currently counts 10,000 active members. Doucet has confirmed the union’s provincial executive will meet if a yes vote happens to decide whether to proceed with job action, and what exactly that would look like.

This is not the first time the union has voted yes on an illegal strike. In 1995, the union voted to strike when then-premier John Savage’s Liberal government introduced the Education Horizons report, which proposed to amalgamate the province’s existing 22 school boards into up to seven regional boards.

If teachers vote to strike, there could be ramifications in the form of fines for both individuals and the union as a whole. - Tina Comeau
If teachers vote to strike, there could be ramifications in the form of fines for both individuals and the union as a whole. - Tina Comeau

The union voted to strike and issued a strike warning, ultimately withdrawing the motion after bargaining saw the union and government reach a consensus on changes both agreed on.

“This is what can happen when we work together, but this government doesn’t seem willing to do that,” said Doucet.

The province issued a statement Feb. 14 on the teachers’ decision to move forward with the vote, saying, “We disappointed the union executive is taking this position and ask that it consider how such action would affect students and their families.”

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