Alan Chell speaks out on the BCTF-government negotiating impasse


Thank you for your article on the current state of bargaining between BCTF and BCPSEA. I would like to provide a bit of additional information that might be useful.

First of all, I completely agree with you about the importance of the teaching profession and the fact that it is very challenging work. Both my parents are retired teachers and I grew up recognizing the work of a teacher. As a trustee for 29 years, I have always focused on budgets and decisions that lead to direct help for classrooms and our Board is very proud of our class sizes, support and results.

You quite rightly point out people or groups that should try to influence what is taking place at the bargaining table. I believe one group that should be added to the list and can have a big impact is local teachers associations. Just as School Boards should try and use their influence to get an agreement, Local teachers’ associations should try and use their influence with their union to bring their proposals into settlement ranges.

When you approached me about comments on the strike vote, we were at a time when BCTF and BCPSEA had an agreed upon provincial protocol to not comment publicly about negotiations. That is clearly not the case now and I am in a position to add some comments.

I can add clarification about the BC Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA). When the Liberal government was re-elected in 2013, one of the first actions was to take control of bargaining. They believed that the public expected them to have accountability and responsibility for bargaining. At the time, I was Chair of BCPSEA and on the Board with me were 8 fellow elected School Trustees, 2 appointees from the Ministry of Education and 2 from the Public Sectors Employers Council (PSEC) as well as a non voting Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer. We were replaced by a Public Administrator (Michael Marchbank). The interim CEO of BCPSEA is Mike Roberts.

Labour relations fundamentals are that time and pressure are major factors in negotiations. The BCTF believed they needed to put pressure on the employer and planned Stage 1 and Stage 2 strike activities. When an employee goes on strike they are legally not performing certain aspects of their duties and the non performance of their duties is meant to cause pressure. Lockouts are a form of pressure the employer uses and the clear expectation in the labour world is that employees should not receive full pay if they refuse to perform some or all of their duties. I believe that both BCTF and BCPSEA are using strike /lockout activities in an effort to put pressure on the other party to lead to a settlement.

The 2 major issues under dispute are the total compensation package and class size, composition and non enrolling (specialist teachers). All of the provincial public sector unions fall under the mandate established by PSEC. The mandate currently under discussion is called the Economic Stability mandate and sees compensation of 5.5% over 5 years with a potential dividend to all unionized employees if the economy achieves certain performance targets. There have been many agreements reached in the public sector and all have come within this mandate. The problem here is that the BCTF position currently calls for demands that are 3 to 4 times higher than this established pattern. The reality is that PSEC will not approve a settlement which would be completely different for the BCTF than for all the other unions.

The issue of class size, composition and non enrolling is very complex but I personally believe that both parties can come up with a creative solution that meets student needs, teacher’s needs, School District needs and taxpayer needs.

I choose to live my life as an optimist ( some would describe that as being naive) but from my seat at the provincial bargaining table, I see the makings of a deal that I hope can be achieved by the end of this school year.

Alan Chell
School District 19 Board of Trustees