Despite union leaders admitting the deal they negotiated for B.C.’s 41,000 public school teachers wasn’t what they had set out to win, 86 per cent of teachers voted Thursday to end a bitter five-week strike and reopen most of the province’s classrooms by Monday.

After a day where teachers warned of a bittersweet victory, B.C. Teachers’ Federation President Jim Iker announced Thursday that of 31,741 ballots cast, 27,275 were in favour of adopting the new six-year contract – ending the longest province-wide strike in the union’s history.

“We all know that this deal isn’t perfect, but it does provide gains for teachers, it protects our charter rights, it increases support for our students,” said Mr Iker, after a tumultuous series of negotiations that lasted most of 2014. “We have emerged as a stronger and more engaged union.”

The conflict between teachers and the province had seemed destined to end in legislation before a surprise resolution early Tuesday morning.

The number of ballots cast in favour of the agreement was the most of any ratification votes held by the union over the past decade.

The size of the victory came as a surprise to Norman Ruff, a political science professor at the University of Victoria. After strong calls for teachers to reject the deal, a similar number of teachers voted to adopt the agreement as voted to start the strike at the start of the summer.

“There was talk of people holding their noses when they voted. Some probably were, but this was a strong endorsement of Mr. Iker and his position,” Prof. Ruff said.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender congratulated teachers on the vote. “We can now focus on the path forward,” he said in a statement.

The deal includes a 7.25-per-cent salary increase, a $400-million fund to hire more teachers, improvements in health benefits and better pay for teachers-on-call.

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 19 2014, 12:41 AM EDT
Last updated Friday, Sep. 19 2014, 2:37 AM EDT