Teachers’ strike could last “quite a while”
The full-scale B.C. teachers’ strike, now in day three, could last “quite a while” warned Education Minister Peter Fassbender today (June 19).
Fassbender noted his disappointment with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) negative response to the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association’s (BCPSEA) latest contract offer in a press release.
The BCPSEA tabled “an affordable, creative and comprehensive package to end the stalemate, get kids back in school and create long-term stability for parents, student and teachers,” Fassbender stated.
“That comprehensive offer for settlement included the special $1,200 signing bonus for a deal by June 30, an improved wage offer, guaranteed funding for class composition, and bridging provisions to address the court case.
“The comprehensive package is fully in line with the wage increases and affordable agreements already reached by nearly 150,000 public sector workers. It was not tabled lightly. It was made clear to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) that we put our best possible offer on the table and it was aimed at concluding this round of bargaining,” he said, adding, “On Wednesday, the BCTF presented their full set of demands. They filled in their blanks and clarified their positions. And instead of moving us closer, their latest demands moved them further away from the affordability zone for public sector settlements.”
Fassbender said he believes the BCTF is not being realistic.
“Their wage and benefit demands alone are more than twice what other unions have settled for. On top of that, they are pushing for hundreds of millions more each year in other contract demands.
“I’m disappointed. We are now further away from an agreement than we were a week ago. We want to give teachers a raise but the BCTF leadership is making that virtually impossible,” he said, pointing out the province cannot give what it doesn’t have.
“What BCPSEA has offered is already at the very limit of what we can afford. We cannot split the difference. Our government has a fundamental commitment to balance the budget and we have an obligation to deal fairly with all 300,000 B.C. public sector workers,” Fassbender said.
In light of the stalemate, the BCTF Thursday announced it is calling on Premier Christy Clark to agree to mediation.
“B.C. teachers have put forward a fair and reasonable framework for a deal that would see improved learning conditions for students on the first school day in September,” stated BCTF President Jim Iker. “However, two more days of bargaining have gone by with no progress or counter offers from government and BCPSEA. At this point, the best way to get that deal that works for B.C.’s public education system is through mediation. Christy Clark should say yes to mediation today.”
Iker explained that a facilitator has been part of the bargaining process since it started in February 2013. However, it has become clear that government needs more pressure to move off their entrenched positions.
“B.C. teachers have moved significantly at the bargaining table to bring the two sides closer together, but we have not seen similar efforts from Christy Clark’s government,” said Iker. “If Christy Clark agrees to mediation and allows government negotiators to come enter that process with a more open mind, we can get a deal.”
The province will continue to negotiate as it doesn’t wish to force teachers back into classrooms, Fassbender said.
“I want to be clear that BCPSEA is not walking away from the table and we remain committed to reaching an agreement by June 30. Nor is government interested in legislating a contract. We appreciate that brings with it the possibility that this strike could go on for quite a while. How long it will last is entirely up to the BCTF – but any hope of timely resolution will require the BCTF executive to be realistic,” he said.
“We accept that they want to get the best possible deal for their members, but teachers need to understand that the best possible deal is one that lands squarely in the same affordable zone as the settlements government has already reached with other public sector unions, Fassbender said.
“The government and BCPSEA remain committed to working with the BCTF achieve the best possible deal for teachers – while keeping it fair for other workers and affordable for taxpayers,” he concluded.
The BCTF’s framework for settlement that is currently on the table is based on five key points:
– A five-year term;
– A reasonable 8% salary increase plus signing bonus;
– No concessions;
– A $225 million annual workload fund to address issues of class size, class composition, and staffing ratios as an interim measure while both parties await the next court ruling;
– A $225 million retroactive grievances fund, over the life of the collective agreement, as a resolution to Justice Griffin’s BC Supreme Court decision that retroactively restored the stripped language from 2002. This fund would be used to address other working conditions like preparation time and TTOC compensation improvements, as well as modest improvements to health benefits.
“Our proposals are fair,” said Iker. “We have been dealing with a government that has a record of bargaining in bad faith and imposing unconstitutional legislation. Evidence from the government’s own officials presented in BC Supreme Court shows the government has stripped $275 million per year from B.C.’s public education system. That means an entire generation of B.C. kids have been short-changed. “There is no reason B.C.’s education system should be funded $1,000 per student below the national average. This government built in a series of surpluses and a sizeable contingency fund in their fiscal plan over the next several years. They have the money. It’s time to reinvest in B.C.’s students,” he said.
After three rounds of rotating strikes, BCTF members entered a full-scale strike phase June 17.