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Looking at a zany year in labour relations, part 2

ColumnHead-Education-SilasWhiteLast month I wrote about K–12 support staff bargaining because a provincial framework agreement had just been reached, which will hopefully lead to a ratified contract by the end of this year. But teacher bargaining traditionally gets more attention in the media because teachers tend to be more closely associated with children’s education, and politics often get intertwined with bargaining by both the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the provincial government.

The last round of bargaining, in 2011–12, was public, political, pugilistic, and long. It included a limited withdrawal of administrative work by teachers for the entire school year, a full strike for three days in March, and a withdrawal of teachers from extracurricular activities for the last couple months of the school year. A negotiated agreement was finally reached, but only after a legislated mediation process that was unpopular with teachers.

Teachers ended up with no wage increases over a two-year term, but government had also wanted more control of professional development, less emphasis on seniority in teacher placement and hiring, and a standardized, vigorous teacher evaluation system. Especially with no money to offer, the government would’ve had to legislate a contract in order to achieve these goals, and as recent BC Supreme Court records reveal, forces in government were upset the successful negotiations put the kibosh on these plans. Through their bargaining agent, boards also managed, without government support, to negotiate a more civil, focused and facilitated framework with the BCTF for the next round of bargaining.

Fast forward to 2013, Premier Christy Clark released a pre-election campaign “10-year deal” framework in January proposing that government take control of provincial bargaining from the employers (boards), among many other things. Only days after the May 14 election, the Premier stressed the 10-year deal with teachers as a top priority, and in late June government appointed its own lead negotiator, Peter Cameron, to take over bargaining from the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA). This move was a bit premature, as the government’s own laws prevent BCPSEA from being replaced so easily. This conflict was rectified at the end of July when government fired the BCPSEA board (on which I served as Vice Chair) so that government could appoint Cameron through it, as well. (Unfortunately trying to work with the board, made up of elected trustees and government’s own appointees, was never attempted, but that is water under the bridge.)

Meanwhile, the BCTF is in BC Supreme Court challenging the government’s 2012 re-stripping of class size and composition language that was originally, and illegally, stripped from local contracts in 2002. As this goes on, negotiations for a new teachers contract will reopen this month. But this time the employers’ side of the table will be ultimately controlled by government alone, on Christy Clark’s election-campaign mandate for a “10-year deal.”

I think we can all agree that negotiating a way to avoid another school year like 2011–12 for as long as possible would be in everyone’s best interests, especially students. But the BCTF has understandably pointed out that long-term agreements tend to require security in the form of resources (a lot of money). And yet Christy Clark also happened to be elected on a “debt-free” fiscal restraint platform. All this is just the set-up to however the negotiations—and undoubtedly more politics—play out over the next months.

Contact: / 604-886-8668 / SD#46 on Twitter: @SSCSchools

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