BC education minister misses facts when speaking of collective agreement, says former BCPSEA Chair

To the Editor:

As chair of the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) from 2011-2013, I was closely involved in the collective agreement negotiated between the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and BCPSEA in June 2012.

I appreciate current Minister of Education Peter Fassbender was not involved in 2012, but his recent assertions that government was fully committed to, and even responsible for, the success of the negotiations are inconsistent with my experience.

By my firsthand recollection, government tactics concerning the Bill 28 reconciliation sessions, and collective bargaining between the BCTF and BCPSEA, were accurately described in Justice Griffin’s BC Supreme Court ruling when she concluded, “Government thought that a teachers strike would give the government a political advantage in imposing legislation that the public might otherwise not support.”

This strategy was pursued, in part, by the restrictive bargaining mandate set by government in addition to the net-zero monetary directive. No other part of the public sector was asked to seek so many concessions from a union with no increase in compensation.

Despite these collective bargaining limitations, the negotiating teams and mediator Dr. Charles Jago worked tirelessly to conclude an agreement. Although the negotiated agreement met the monetary mandate, government representatives informed us of their dissatisfaction with the agreement, including the lost opportunity, now identified in the recent judgment, to “impose concessions which advance education initiatives” through legislation triggered by the failure of collective bargaining.

Yet recent statements made by Minister Fassbender seem to revise the events of 2012. It is concerning to hear the minister emphatically state that government’s goal was to reach a negotiated settlement, when that claim is so inconsistent with what actually transpired and now forms part of the Griffin decision.

Despite how pleased the minister now claims to be with the negotiated agreement, the facts that this government 1) moved swiftly after the election to replace elected school trustees on the BCPSEA board with its own public administrator, 2) appoint a government negotiator in the midstream of current BCTF bargaining, and 3) replace the senior staff at BCPSEA, tell a very different story.

With Tuesday’s call by the BCTF for a strike vote, current bargaining seems to be drifting. A significant difference in this round is that government now owns it all: the funder, the policy maker and now the bargainer. Will it retreat to a legislative fix or a legitimately bargained one?

One hopes that the decision will provide some direction to government notwithstanding its decision to appeal. The appeal won’t change the facts. In the future, it might be wise to follow Griffin’s reflection that perhaps, “This affirms the wisdom of the Korbin labour relations model: government is removed from the direct bargaining relationship with public sector employees and bargaining takes place with the employer association, which has a more direct interest in reaching agreement.”

Sincere reflection would provide the opportunity for all to learn and grow to make public education better. What is past is past and it is time to focus on the future. The students in our great public education system deserve our best efforts.

Melanie Joy
School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake)