Government funding, long-held demands for concessions hindering teacher bargaining: BCTF

Teri Mooring

THE BC Teachers’ Federation says that since July, they 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 says 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,” says 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 explains 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 should stop using “me too” clauses and the mandate as an excuse for not taking steps to address BC’s teacher shortage,” says Mooring. “Teachers are seeking the same kind of grid adjustments that other unions like the BCGEU and BCNU were able to achieve in this round under the same mandate.”

Mooring also explains the importance of protecting and enhancing teachers’ working conditions which are students’ learning conditions.

“Our teachers need classrooms that are teachable and workable. That means appropriate class sizes, access to specialist teachers, and support for children with special needs. Our collective agreement language that was restored by the courts has gone a long way to increasing the amount of teachers in schools and improving support for children with unique needs.

“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.”

Here is a timeline of major events in the bargaining and mediation process to date.

February 7, 2019
Negotiations between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) began. The two sides met several times leading up to a scheduled break in March.

March 13, 2019
The BCTF Bargaining Team completed the task of tabling all of the Federation’s proposals, including proposals on class size, class composition, specialist staffing ratios, and salary.

April 2, 2019
Despite public comments from the Minister of Education, including a March 17, 2019, interview with the The Globe and Mail that his “government is not seeking any concessions,” the BC Public School Employers’ Association tabled a series of sweeping proposals that would rollback almost everything teachers won back in the Supreme Court of Canada. The employer’s proposals would make class sizes worse, eliminate class composition entirely from the collective agreement, and strip specific ratios for specialists like counsellors and special education teachers.

May 14, 2019
The employer tabled new concessionary workload proposals that continued their efforts to undo teachers’ Supreme Court of Canada win. The proposals would increase allowable class sizes whilestill deleting class composition and specific staffing ratios for specialists from the collective agreement entirely. The employer refused to disclose projected job losses for specific districts under these rollbacks.

June 14, 2019
The BCTF Bargaining Team proposed summer dates to continue negotiations if no agreement was reached by June 30, 2019.

June 18, 2019
The employer’s bargaining team gave notice that they would be seeking a mediator under Section 74 of the Labour Relations Code. The BCTF welcomed the request and the Labour Relations Board’s (LRB) subsequent appointment of mediator David Schaub.

July 2019
Mediation officially got underway in the first week of July. The two sides met several times during the month and the mediator instructed both sides to refrain from discussing specific details in the media.

August 21, 2019
Mediation resumed for eight days of scheduled talks prior to the start of the new school year. At the direction of the BCTF Executive Committee, the BCTF Bargaining Team took a reduced package of proposals to mediation to ensure talks kept moving forward. However, at no point during these eight days did the employer’s side remove their concessions on class size, class composition, or specialist staffing ratios from their proposals.

August 30, 2019
The mediator instructed the two sides to pause mediation until September 23, 2019. He also reiterated that the details of proposals made in mediation and the process itself were subject to a media blackout. That same day, the Minister of Education released a statement to the media indicating a “rollover” proposal, had been tabled, meaning the existing language restored in 2016 and implemented by the 2017 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) would carry on.  It’s unclear why the Minister of Education made and repeated those comments in the media. No such proposal was tabled or given to the BCTF Bargaining Team. The employer’s demands for concessions and rollbacks proposed on April 2 and May 14 remained on the table.

September 15, 2019
The BCTF Executive Committee directed the Bargaining Team to further reduce the number of proposals and overall cost of the Federation’s package in advance of mediation resuming.

September 23, 2019
Mediation between the two parties resumed.

September 26, 2019 
BCPSEA, for the first time, tabled a proposal that resembled the “rollover” proposal described by the Minister of Education on August 30, 2019. In simplest terms, it would write the MOA from 2017 into the collective agreement and give 2% raises in each of the three years. The proposal would preserve the collective agreement language teachers won back in the Supreme Court, but also the remedy concept that was negotiated in 2017, that has not met the needs of teachers or students.

The proposal would mean no improvements for locals, distributed learning teachers, and adult educators who don’t have class-size and composition language, or the language that they do have is incomplete. In addition, the 2%–2%–2% salary proposal would not address recruitment and retention problems or how far BC teachers have fallen behind our counterparts in other provinces. 

October 1, 2019
After receiving direction from the BCTF Executive Committee, the bargaining team prepared and intended topresent a counter offer to the employer’s “rollover” proposal. The employer’s side refused to even look at it, so it was never officially tabled. Instead, the BCTF was informed that BCPSEA formally requested the mediator to write a report. This was consistent with Section 74(5) of the Labour Relations Code.

As part of the Section 74(5) process, a strict media blackout was imposed, and the two sides were invited to make submissions to the mediator. BCPSEA again, contrary to the mediator’s instructions, posted a news release on their website outlining details of mediation. The BCTF submitted proposals and responses to the mediator as per the mediation timelines.

November 1, 2019
The mediator submitted his report to the BCTF Bargaining Team and Executive Committee. The release of the report coincided with a previously scheduled meeting of the BCTF’s Representative Assembly. At that meeting, the Representative Assembly voted to reject the mediator’s recommendations and directed the Bargaining Team to seek more dates to continue negotiations.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.