Vince ReadyBy Vivian Luk and Tamsyn Burgmann

The Canadian Press

Richmond: A marathon bargaining session boosted by a master mediator has resulted in a tentative contract that could end British Columbia’s bitter teachers’ strike and allow half a million students to start their school year.

The breakthrough in negotiations came in the early hours of a sixth day of talks at a Richmond, B.C., hotel between the teachers’ union and the government’s bargaining agent, with the aid of mediator Vince Ready.

Ready, known for taking on tough labour disputes, said both sides worked hard to reach the tentative deal.

“After all these hours, I am very pleased to announce that the parties have reached a tentative agreement,” he told reporters outside the hotel early Tuesday. “I’m not at liberty to release any of the details, nor are the parties.”

Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender were to release details of the agreement later Tuesday in Vancouver.

Clark told a business gathering earlier in the day that the contract was six years in length _ longer than the teachers’ union had wanted.

One the union’s bargaining team members said the contentious E80 clause, involving class size and composition, had been scrapped and would be dealt with through the courts.

David Komljenovic, also president of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association, said many of the union’s issues were addressed at the negotiating table.

“Teachers had taken a vote last week about ensuring that the infamous E80 was off the table,” he said. “We did manage to get that off.”

“It’s an agreement we can live with. Definitely, there’s something for both sides. But the issues around what’s before the courts will remain there.”

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation thanked its more than 40,000 members through social media for their “commitment, courage and strength” during the months-long strike.

Union spokeswoman Nancy Knickerbocker said on Twitter that teachers will read over details and vote on the agreement on Thursday. She said schools, which have been closed since mid-June, will also need to be cleaned before students resume classes.

Administrators are anticipating that Monday will be the earliest that most schools could open.

Patti Bacchus, chairwoman of the Vancouver School Board, said that if the contract is ratified, the board will attempt to get into the school year as quickly as possible. Principals have already been making preparations, she said.

“We’re fairly well prepared,” Bacchus said, adding many teachers still have to tidy up from last June because the strike began two weeks before the official end of the school year.

“It’s going to be bumpy for sure and people are going to have to be a little bit patient, but I know there’s a great desire to get back as soon as we possibly can,” she said.

Bacchus was thrilled that the deal was struck at the bargaining table, noting the board was getting pessimistic about whether that could happen.

“I hope this will help deal with some of the damaged morale as we go forward.”

School Supt. Joe Rogers in Vernon said he expected schools to open next week, adding the resumption of classes may be dictated by the terms of the deal.

Ig Cheung, who has been teaching in Surrey for nearly two decades, said he’s relieved that an agreement has been negotiated but he intends to read it closely before deciding how to vote.

“I’m just hoping we haven’t given up too much.”

Chung said that with morale waning on the picket lines, there will be some uncertainty among teachers because not all his colleagues will return to the job wholeheartedly.

“This is going to be a very different year,” he said. “Some teachers, after all this, may just go and teach. They (will) forego extracurriculars like running clubs, coaching teams.”

Grade 12 student Queena Zeng said she expects everyone is feeling overwhelmed, but she’s optimistic that moods will brighten once classes get into gear.

“At the end of the day, everyone has to try to get back together,” she said. “It’s not just the teachers, but also the students and the admin. Everyone working together.”

Talks resumed last week as a group of unions offered $8 million in loans to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, another donated $500,000 and the government suggested back-to-work legislation.

Public anger also intensified as students were heading into a third week without the start of school after two weeks of missed classes in June.

The teachers’ union and various B.C. governments have had a decades-long history of animosity and difficult labour relations.

Wages and class size and composition were the major stumbling blocks in the current dispute.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled last winter that the provincial government violated teachers’ rights in 2002 when it removed their union’s ability to negotiate classroom conditions. The government appealed that decision, and a hearing is scheduled for next month.

(The Canadian Press, CKIZ, CFJC)

© 2014 The Canadian Press