The B.C. Federation of Labour has thrown a life preserver to the province’s teachers, who have been without pay since going on strike in June.

Federation president Jim Sinclair announced Wednesday morning that $8 million in interest-free loans has been pledged to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We’re not going to let money be a problem for 41,000 teachers who are standing up for public education,” Sinclair told a press conference outside a shuttered East Vancouver school.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to these teachers who have given up their paycheques to try to put money and resources back in the system.”

The substantial loan consisted of contributions from eight unions, including the B.C. Government Employees Union, Hospital Employees Union, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, and Unifor.

The BCFED also called on Premier Christy Clark to accept teachers’ twice-refused call for binding arbitration, describing it as a common tool in deadlocked negotiations.

“When the ferries weren’t running they went to binding arbitration and everybody went back to work. If it’s good enough for the ferries, and we need to keep them going, we certainly need public education working,” Sinclair said.

In addition to the loan, teachers received a $500,000 donation Wednesday from the B.C. Nurses’ Union, which also has to negotiate a new collective agreement with the province.

Premier’s press conference crashed

Earlier in the day, Clark was shouted down by a huge crowd of picketing teachers while speaking at an event celebrating Maple Ridge’s 140th anniversary.

What began as a small protest outside a local arts centre grew into a noisy gathering, with picketers eventually flooding into the venue and crashing the event.

The premier, who was drowned out for part of her remarks, said her government has already offered teachers a fair raise, and that ending the strike is her “number one priority.”

“To the teachers and to the students who are locked out of their classrooms because of the strike: we want to get this settled as fast as we can,” Clark said. “We believe teachers deserve a raise.”

On Tuesday, 13 B.C. union leaders released an open letter to Clark, chiding her and the province for repeatedly insisting that meeting the BCTF’s demands would be unfair to unions that settled for less.

“We have each negotiated our own collective agreements,” it said. “We urge you to immediately stop attributing your refusal to bargain critical issues with teachers because you want to be ‘fair to other public sector workers.’”

The concern was raised as recently as Monday in a statement by Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

“The BCTF is still asking for nearly twice as much as other public-sector unions have settled for,” Fassbender said. “It’s not fair to other unionized employees.”

Teachers are voting Wednesday on a proposal to suspend their strike in exchange for binding arbitration, despite the fact that government has already said that option is off the table.

The results of the vote are expected to be released Wednesday evening.