As many have heard, the provincial government announced on Oct. 17 that it is in the midst of reviewing the teacher bargaining process in the province.
This announcement follows a tentative collective agreement reached between the Public School Employers Association and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation that covers a two year term effective July 1, 2011 through to June 30, 2013.
“As we settle into a new school year, a key goal for government is to create a more stable learning environment for B.C.’s students and their families,” said Premier Christy Clark. The review of the bargaining process has seen government engage with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and other education stakeholders on how to best make systemic improvements prior to the next round of bargaining set to begin in June of next year.
But the premier is also pushing to negotiate a 10-year-deal with teachers.
“Imagine being able to negotiate a 10-year-deal,” said Clark. “Can it be done? I don’t know. Is it worth trying? Absolutely.”
But Chris Rolls, president of Local 66 here in Lake Cowichan, is not feeling overly positive about the process, or in fact that it will do any good when it comes to bargaining.
“Christy Clark and Don McRae have said that they will consult with key education stakeholder organizations on how the model for teachers’ collective bargaining can be improved. And consultations will occur through October and early November and are expected to include school trustees and school administrators and parent groups. So by the time this came out on Oct. 17, we’re already halfway through October, not much left if it’s going to be done by early November. It hints that it’s already been written and decided because where in their list of people they’re going to consult with does it include teachers and teacher groups?” said Rolls.
Rolls says that she is guessing, as are many, that the legislation is already written, “and like many other consultation meetings, the consultations are designed to get the answers that they want.”
She adds that past consultation meetings have meant that teachers and teacher organizations are asked questions and then are shown what their answers were.
“Now how can they prepare those slides in advance if they’re asking us questions?”
Rolls feels that the push for a ten-year agreement by the premier and the education minister is a campaign promise.
“This has all to do with winning votes back, if you ask me,” said Rolls. “Voters are impacted by what happens with their kids and when we strike or change the way we work, like we did last year, that does affect the kids as much as we don’t want it to.”
Rolls says that the government needs to dig out a report done by Don Wright in 2003 called “Toward a Better Teacher Bargaining Model in B.C.”
“Since 2003 when that report was done . . . what have we had since then?” said Rolls. “We’ve had legislative contracts that impact the classroom.”
Rolls is worried about class size and composition, especially how it affects those students with special needs, and lack of funding for libraries and tools such as text books.
“The bottom line is, we want to see kids get what they need . . . and that’s getting harder and harder and harder. But my concern is that if they shaft us again — shaft the kids — we’re stuck with that for 10 years? It doesn’t give much hope if we’re stuck with something that’s not in the best interest of the kids,” said Rolls
“I would love to see that there’s no job action, I would love to see peace in the whole bargaining process with teachers and I’m willing to bet you that that’s what all teachers would say,” said Rolls. “But we’re not willing to sit back and lose rights that we’ve always had.”
Min. McRae doesn’t seem as fixated on the 10-year-deal as the premier does. In a radio interview with CFAX’s Ryan Price, he steered the conversation back to the need for constructive negotiations.
“I would just like to have long-term labour peace. If it’s 10 years, great. But you know, just watching what we went through last year, it wasn’t great for the students and the system or the teachers teaching there,” said McRae.
McRae also pointed to the Wright report and another by Vince Ready in 2007, saying that they were past successes that need to be built on for successful negotiating to occur.
Bargaining begins in March 2013, and Rolls, along with teachers around the province, will have to wait until then to see if the review makes any difference.