Teachers settle with — and now sue — the government

Just in time for the end of the school year, the BC Teachers’ Federation has reached a tentative agreement with the government’s bargaining agent, the BC Public School Employers’ Association.

The BCTF Executive Committee is recommending ratification.

“We have been able to achieve some modest improvements but, above all, we succeeded in getting government to take its concession demands off the table,” Susan Lambert, the union’s president, said in a statement released Thursday morning.

“We’ve concluded this agreement in order to prevent government from imposing a contract that would further erode teachers’ hard-won rights and do more harm to students’ learning conditions.”

Needless to say, BCPSEA Chairwoman Melanie Joy had a different take on the conclusion of bargaining.

“After almost 80 bargaining sessions and 16 sessions with mediator Dr. Charles Jago, public school employers have reached a tentative collective agreement with the BC Teachers’ Federation,” she said in a statement from Vancouver.

Among the provisions, the two-year tentative colllective agreement standardizes provincial language for a number of leaves, establishes a process for the local/provincial bargaining process, and renews a number of existing Letters of Understanding.

“We hope this tentative agreement will be carefully considered by both boards of education and teachers, and that they will agree this is a reasonable settlement at this time,” Joy said.

“For a variety of reasons it’s been a challenging round of bargaining, but we always believed that if the parties could get down to focused discussions at the table, a negotiated deal was possible. There’s no question that an agreement reached by the parties is always the best resolution, and that was always BCPSEA’s objective.”

The agreement does not address some of the teachers’ key demands the union says it is suing the government.

Lambert noted that the agreement provides some modest improvements in terms of teachers’ benefits, which were extremely outdated, and in some leave provisions. However, it fails to provide improvements to class size and composition or salaries and teachers’ labour rights remain restricted by Bill 22.

For that reason, the BCTF is today filing notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court regarding Bill 22, she said.  In its claim, the Federation asserts:

  • that government, by prohibiting BCPSEA from agreeing to any increase in compensation or benefits for teachers, or from agreeing to any restrictions on the exercise of management rights, unconstitutionally infringed teachers’ Charter protected right to free collective bargaining.
  • that government’s directions to BCPSEA resulted in bad faith bargaining.
  • that Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, infringed teachers’ Charter-protected right to collective bargaining, by reinstating the legislation which the BC Supreme Court has previously held to be constitutionally invalid and which prevents teachers from bargaining important matters such as class size, class composition, and staffing levels.

The agreement does nothing to address the wide gap between BC teachers’ salaries and those in other regions of the country. BC teachers had wage freezes, which are, in fact, wage cuts due to inflation, imposed in 2004–05 and 2005–06, and now again for 2011–12 and 2012–13.

“Going into this round of negotiations we were the lowest-paid teachers in Western Canada and also lagged behind Ontario,” Lambert said. “Now we will fall even further behind, despite living in the province with the highest cost of living in the country.”

Teachers across the province will cast their ballots June 27–29, with results of the ratification vote to be announced on the evening of June 29, the last day of the 2011–2012 school year.

The next negotiations between the BCTF and the government will begin in eight months, Lambert said.