Government funding and long-held demands for concessions hindering teacher bargaining

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  • Since July, the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) have been in mediation with mediator David Schaub who was appointed under Section 74 of the BC Labour Relations Code. The two sides began negotiations back in February 2019. During mediation in late September, BCPSEA refused to receive any more proposals and asked the mediator to write a report. That report was released on November 1, 2019 and its recommendations were subsequently rejected by the BCTF’s Representative Assembly, a body made up of Local Representatives from every local teacher association in BC.

    BCTF President Teri Mooring said the BCTF remains committed to getting a negotiated settlement and the Teachers’ Federation is seeking more dates for talks with the employer.

    “The main barriers to getting a deal are long-held demands from the employer to rollback the class-size and class-composition language recently restored by the Supreme Court of Canada and a lack of funding from government to make meaningful improvements to teachers’ salaries,” said Mooring. “BC teachers have the second lowest starting salary in all of Canada and the lowest overall salary in the Western provinces, including Ontario and Alberta.”

    “Teachers’ low wages in BC have made recruitment and retention such a problem that our province is now in a teacher shortage crisis. The result of the teacher shortage is an unprecedented number of unqualified and non-certified adults teaching in classrooms across BC. That’s unacceptable and we wouldn’t tolerate it in other professions. The shortage has also caused significant disruptions to students with special needs. Too often, specialist teachers who work one-on-one or in small groups with students are being pulled from their work to cover classrooms with no teacher in them. There are not enough on-call teachers to cover absences and sick days. The negative consequences of the teacher shortage impact all students.”

    Mooring explained that the BCTF has been working within the government’s “Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate” on the Federation’s salary proposal. All along, the BCTF has been seeking the 2%-2%-2% increases consistent with the mandate and grid adjustments to help address BC’s low wages and teacher shortage. Labour market adjustments, low wage redress, and wage comparability adjustments do not trigger the “me too” clauses negotiated by other public sector unions. Those clauses clearly articulate exemptions for allowed adjustments, and nothing in the BCTF’s proposals are a challenge to that mandate.

    “The government, through their bargaining agent BCPSEA, tabled massive concessions that would undo our entire court win on April 3, 2019. It was shocking to see this government, through their employers’ association, try to undo everything teachers had fought so long to win back. These proposed rollbacks to class size, class composition, and staffing ratios would create job losses and cuts.”

    “It wasn’t until September 26, 2019 that the employer made a proposal that didn’t require massive concessions. Instead of even receiving a counter proposal, a normal part of the bargaining back-and-forth process, the employer asked the mediator for a report. The BCTF has made significant moves at every stage of mediation to keep talks moving forward, but it takes two to reach a fair settlement.”

    “It’s time for the government to confirm that their bargaining agent has abandoned their demands for unacceptable concessions once and for all. The BCNDP government’s public positions supporting teachers and public education have been at odds with the employers’ actions at the table for months. The BC cabinet needs to give the employer new marching orders and put new funding on the table to get a deal that works for teachers and students.”

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