Differences of opinion may make teachers’ bargaining process more difficult

By Laura Stovel

The Revelstoke School Board and Revelstoke Teachers’ Association representatives appear to have serious differences of  opinion about the immediate impact of the April 13 Supreme Court decision on Bills 27 and 28 on the ongoing collective bargaining process.  These differences may make local bargaining, which began on March 1, more difficult.

In the decision, Madam Justice Susan Griffin found that the two bills, enacted in 2002, were unconstitutional. The bills “unilaterally overrode provisions of existing collective agreements,” and were “enacted without any prior consultation with the teachers’ union,” she wrote.  (See The Current’s April 19 article on this). Justice Griffin gave the BC government 12 months “to address the repercussions of this decision.”

School Board Chairman Allan Chell said that the decision will not affect the current bargaining process because of the 12-month period that the government had been given to remedy the situation.  “There is some misunderstanding that this will put class size back in the contract. No it won’t,” he said. The government first needs to give “careful thought about what its options are.”

However, Revelstoke Teachers’ Association President Bill MacFarlane said that the teachers are “going back to the bargaining table” with the assumption that the rights stripped by the bills are “back in effect.” “The reality is that the government should act right away,” he said. “It’s easy” for them to do.

While MacFarlane has argued that the Revelstoke School Board should have defended teachers when the problematic bills were enacted, Chell did not see this as a board role. He said that in the past the government has bypassed school boards and negotiated directly with the teachers’ union. “It’s not been our practice to intervene” in such cases. “If we have something to say, we say it privately to government officials. We are not interested in a public dispute.”