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Jim Iker’s roller-coaster ride with BCTF coming to an end

Union boss stepping down after three terms
BCTF president Jim Iker at the teachers' union's annual general meeting this weekend, the 100th such annual meeting, in Vancouver.

VANCOUVER — Jim Iker’s terms as president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has had ups and downs: a prolonged labour dispute, a thrilling win in court and then a deflating loss.

“It’s kind of like a roller-coaster. There’s these incredible highs and there are those other moments where you have to give pause,” he said. “You always have to have hope.”

Iker spoke to The Vancouver Sun this weekend at his last BCTF annual general meeting as president. The hockey-loving teacher from the northern B.C. community of Topley was first elected president in 2013 and will have served three terms by the time he officially steps down on June 30.

Like the terms of many of his predecessors, Iker’s was marked by conflict with the provincial government, culminating in a five-week strike in 2014. He describes the labour dispute as one of the biggest challenges of his time in office, but also as a rewarding experience that helped strengthen the union’s connection to the teachers it represents.

“Being on strike and being the face of the federation during that dispute, and ensuring that the public understood the issues that our members were walking the line for, it was just so incredible,” Iker said.

Another tough moment came last spring, when B.C.’s appeal court overturned an earlier decision from a B.C. Supreme Court judge, who had ordered the province to restore rules about class size and composition to the teachers’ contract.

Still, Iker sees hope in the Supreme Court of Canada, which will have the final say in the matter.

“You can never lose sight of hope,” he said.

There were quieter moments during his time as president that bring him pride, like helping teachers participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, creating the Project of Heart website as a resource for information about residential schools, and advocating more aboriginal content and history in the B.C. public school curriculum.

“(I’m) also very proud of the work that we’ve been doing in the area of LGTBQ issues and working hard to ensure that every school district has strong anti-homophobia and transphobia policies,” Iker said.

His last annual general meeting with the BCTF just happens to be the union’s 100th.

“It’s just amazing when you think about it — how many organizations have actually reached that milestone?” Iker said.

“It’s a proud moment for me and it’s a proud moment in our history.”

The next BCTF president will be chosen in a vote on Monday. As of Sunday afternoon, the only candidate to replace Iker was Glen Hansman, the union’s first vice-president and a Vancouver elementary school teacher.

The new president will take over on July 1. Iker will continue to serve on the BCTF executive for another year as past president, and will also sit as a union representative with the Teacher Regulation Branch.