Saturday, September 20, 2014


B.C. teachers' strike: Could it have ended much sooner, asks Stephen Smart


By on 10:02 AM

There is no denying that a negotiated contract between the provincial government and B.C.'s 41,000 public school teachers is a good thing. Given the track record, you could even call it historic.

This is just the third negotiated deal since province-wide bargaining came into being in 1994, but jubilation over a negotiated deal actually getting done is fading into the reality of whether the result was worth the price paid by both teachers and students.

hi-852-classroom-cp

It also begs some tough questions for both sides about why the dispute was allowed to drag on as long as it did: namely, how unrealistic expectations and an unwillingness to compromise, coupled with an inability to carry out rational negotiations, left 500,000-plus B.C. students and their parents in the lurch for five weeks of a complete school shutdown.

Bargaining began on Feb. 4, 2013. The next day, facilitator Mark Brown was selected by the union to assist the parties work out their differences.

Yet, according to government, for more than a year, the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) didn't even put numbers on the table.

Documents from the B.C. Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) show it wasn't until March 7 of this year that the union came up with its first comprehensive salary proposal, asking for 13.5 per cent in wage increases.

Furthermore, the provincial government says it wasn't until June that the BCTF fully costed out its proposal.

It is not just the union being accused of wasting precious bargaining time: the Teachers' Federation points to the government's refusal to discuss any other issues until that wage and benefits piece was taken care of.

As a result, even smaller matters that might not have been as contentious were left to percolate and fester while the standoff on the bigger issues grew more intense.

Lines drawn in the chalk dust

As early as last spring, the two sides had cemented their positions.

The B.C. Liberal government made clear that it absolutely would not stray far from the basic contract formula already accepted by nearly half of other public sector workers.

The BCTF, on the other hand, made it equally clear that it would not accept a deal that didn't see an increase in funding for class size and conditions nor a deal that didn't protect its right to continue with its court fight with government.
Clearly, this was a product of the dysfunctional relationship between the parties that was at the centre of the dispute, fuelled partly by the court battle that’s raged for more than a decade.
As a result, students and parents had to endure five weeks of a full-scale school shutdown — not to mention teachers enduring five weeks without a paycheque, leaving them between $5,000 to $10,000 out of pocket, depending on each teacher's pay scale.

Some estimates suggest that even at the end of this six-year deal, some teachers will not have made up for the money lost while out on the picket lines.

And for what? In the end, this is arguably a deal that could have and should have been reached months ago.

They ended up meeting in the middle.

MORE | BCTF letter outlines tentative agreement
Government added $100 million to its learning improvement fund for a total of $400 million over five years, to hire as many as 850 new teachers each year.

Government also agreed to pay out $105 million in grievances, which the union is distributing as a signing bonus.

Plus, the government dropped the controversial E80 clause, which the union argued would nullify their victories in the class size and composition court case.

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