Category Archives: Strikes & Labor

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

Does size matter when it comes to public school classes?

This question was debated on CBC Radio’s The Current this morning. Burnaby, BC grade 4/5 teacher Jennifer Heighton, Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, and I weighed in on the question.

Important context is the ongoing BC teachers strike, where class size and composition are key elements of contract negotiations. The ruling BC Liberals stripped class size and composition rules from the BC teachers contract in 2002, a move that has twice been judged as illegal by BC courts.

I’ve written a brief summary of class size research, with key references, which you can find here.

You can read a very recent review of the research on class size here.

Last month, Global TV BC broadcast a “town hall” discussion on a wide variety of education issues related to education in BC and the ongoing dispute between teachers and government, including class size. You can watch that segment here.

Here’s a good background piece from The Tyee: Everything You Need to Know about BC Teacher Bargaining

Listen to The Current segment (21 minutes) on class size here.

BC Labour leaders statement in solidarity w #BCed teachers #BCTF #bcpoli #yteubc #criticaled

B.C. Federation of Labour Statement of Solidarity with Teachers

17 June 2014

As leaders of British Columbia’s Labour Movement we speak with one voice today in solidarity with the 40,000 teachers in the province who are standing up for the rights of children to a quality public education by demanding a fair collective agreement.

It is becoming more and more apparent that, despite statements to the contrary by Premier Christy Clark, there is little desire by the B.C. Liberal government to bargain in good faith and end this dispute for the good of all.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has shown a willingness to find a path forward, putting forth significant changes that would have brought teachers and the employer closer to an agreement. But the government refused to even discuss them, and chose to move backwards instead of forwards.

Teachers want to stay in the classroom but they know how important it is to hold strong against the government’s assault on our public education system. Their fight is bigger than one union – they are fighting for the rights of all workers to be treated with dignity and for all children to have a solid start in life.

Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals need to get the clear message from British Columbians that it is time for the government to respect the work of our teachers and the two court decisions, and negotiate a settlement in good faith. There is no need to let this dispute continue through the summer and into the fall. The time to settle is now.

We know that workers and parents across the province support teachers – they understand and respect the important role they play in our communities.

It is now time for all of us to take action. Demonstrations of solidarity with teachers are more important now than ever.

As labour leaders and parents we are calling on our members, and all British Columbians, to bolster the picket lines to ensure teachers know they are not standing alone, and the government knows we are a united movement.

Such acts of solidarity over the last two weeks have made a difference. Other unions, including 25,000 CUPE members, have been active on the picket lines – and as the teachers move into a full strike, we all need to play our part.

Write the Premier, the Education Minister and your local MLA. Tell Christy Clark to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on fighting the courts, and start investing in public education so that our kids have the best chance for success.

And join the rallies being hosted by the B.C. Federation of Labour and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. A strong showing sends a strong message – both to the teachers of the province who need your support, and to the government who needs to hear your frustration.

As working people, public education has never been more important for our young people. Their success in finding meaningful work and in being active members of their communities is tied directly to a fully-funded public education system where all educational staff are respected.

We are all responsible for protecting that system now.

In solidarity,

Val Avery, HSA
David Black, COPE 378
Lynn Bueckert, BCGEU
Brian Cochrane, IUOE
Laird Cronk, IBEW
Robert Demand, UNITE HERE!
Victor Elkins, HEU
Mark Gordienko, ILWU
Mark Hancock, CUPE BC
Amber Hockin, CLC
Steve Hunt, USW
Jim Iker, BCTF
Bob Jackson, PSAC
Dusty Kelly, IATSE
Irene Lanzinger, BCFED
Ivan Limpright, UFCW
Lee Loftus, BC Building Trades
Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor
Cindy Oliver, FPSE
Bonnie Pearson, HEU
Karen Ranalletta, CUPE BC
Jim Sinclair, BCFED
Stephanie R. Smith, BCGEU
Joie Warnock, Unifor

Petition to support #BCED teachers #CapilanoU #EmilyCarrU #RoyalRoads #SFU #TWU #UBC #UFV #UNBC #VIU #UVic

BCTFRallyJune2014Students, teachers and supporters at BCTF VESTA rally, June 10, 2014

 SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT BC TEACHERS / BCTF

BC Premier Christy Clark and Minister Peter Fassbender,

We the undersigned, faculty members, librarians, administrators, students, and staff in post-secondary institutions across British Columbia, encourage you to increase your support of public education by recognizing the value of our teachers. We encourage you to demonstrate this recognition by bargaining with the BCTF with an open mind to meeting the teachers’ very fair proposals. This includes de-escalation by backing down on the BC Public School Employers’ Association’s (BCPSEA) retaliatory lockout, which further erodes the teachers’ right to bargain and threatens fair labour practices across the BC public sector. BCTF President Iker argues “It’s time for Premier Christy Clark to provide the employer with new funding that will help bring the two sides closer together on class size, composition, staffing levels for specialist teachers, and wages.”  We agree.

Please invest in education and labour by resolving this dispute at the bargaining table rather than through retaliatory lockouts. The teachers, who are the BCTF, and all public sector employees through their unions, deserve a fair process of reaching a collective agreement. Thank you.

Sign the petition in support of BC teachers / BCTF

Rally to support #BCed teachers #ubc #sfu #ucapilano #yteubc #bcpoli

BCTFRallyJune2014

Rally today (10 June) to support BC teachers @ 4-6pm
BCPSEA 1333 West Broadway (between Hemlock and Birch)

 SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT BC TEACHERS / BCTF

Petition to support #BCed teachers / #BCTF #bcpoli #ubc #sfu #yteubc

BCTFQueenMaryElementary2014BC teachers picketing at Queen Mary Elementary School, Vancouver

 Sign the Petition to support BC teachers / BCTF

BC Premier Christy Clark and Minister Peter Fassbender,

We the undersigned, faculty members, librarians, administrators, students, and staff in post-secondary institutions across British Columbia, encourage you to increase your support of public education by recognizing the value of our teachers. We encourage you to demonstrate this recognition by bargaining with the BCTF with an open mind to meeting the teachers’ very fair proposals. This includes de-escalation by backing down on the BC Public School Employers’ Association’s (BCPSEA) retaliatory lockout, which further erodes the teachers’ right to bargain and threatens fair labour practices across the BC public sector. BCTF President Iker argues “It’s time for Premier Christy Clark to provide the employer with new funding that will help bring the two sides closer together on class size, composition, staffing levels for specialist teachers, and wages.”  We agree.

Please invest in education and labour by resolving this dispute at the bargaining table rather than through retaliatory lockouts. The teachers, who are the BCTF, and all public sector employees through their unions, deserve a fair process of reaching a collective agreement. Thank you.

Sign the petition in support of BC teachers / BCTF

#BCED and the politics of education funding #bcpoli #yteubc

BCTFMay2014

Tara Ehrcke, May 28, 2014, RankandFile.ca– Two days into rotating strikes and a “partial” lockout by the BC government, independent polling shows strong support for the teachers. An Angus Reid poll showed that among the general public, 41 percent supported the teachers while 30 percent support the government. Among parents with children in school, the support is stronger, with 51 percent supporting the teachers and only 28 percent support for the government.

The issue has also drawn the attention of BC’s opposition parties – both the NDP and the Greens (who have one sitting MLA). But while neither party supports the current actions of the government, they are also unwilling to take a clear stance supporting the demands of the teachers – in particular, the restoration of class size and class composition limits and a fair salary increase.

The NDP does not have a great track record on this issue. I’ve been following their position in every election since the limits were illegally stripped back in 2002. Not once since 2002 has the NDP come out in support of restoring the limits and reinstating teachers’ collective agreement language. I have personally asked this question in 2005, 2008 and 2013, and never has an NDP candidate I have spoken to committed to restoring the language or the funding.

In the last election, in 2013, the NDP platform included $100 million for education. This is dismally short of the $300 million needed to restore class sizes and additional funding to address increased costs to school boards. But sadly, it is even less than the $178 million they were proposing in 2005.

While the NDP is happy to attack the Liberals for their bargaining tactics, they haven’t made a concrete commitment to do anything different with respect to funding and restoring our contract. In yesterday’s question period, new NDP leader John Horgan chastised Education Minister Peter Fassbender saying, ”a 12-year record of destabilizing public education. A child who started in grade 1 in 2002 has had 12 years of confusion as the result of this government’s policies.”

But never once in that twelve years has the NDP promised to do the right thing. The issue is not “confusion” as he claims, rather the issue is large, complex classes and too few resources.

It sometimes feels that the NDP simply like to use our situation to play partisan politics rather than address the issues. The biggest media story they made of the last court case (when our contract stripping was found illegal for a second time) was the fact that the judge found the government to have provoked a strike. While important, the revelation about the government’s deliberate provocation of the strike pales in comparison to systematically underfunding schools and robbing teacher’s of their constitutional rights.

The Greens have also weighed in on the dispute, with a frustrating opinion piece by interim party leader Adam Olsen and a more thoughtful, if still problematic, blog post from MLA Andrew Weaver. Both refuse to take sides, implicitly suggesting the teachers’ complaints are not justified. Olsen writes, “it appears they have given up on making a real effort to find common ground, and instead focused their efforts on winning a publicity battle that is detrimental to our children and their teachers.”

I wonder if either Olsen or Weaver believe that if someone steals your house, and you get into a feud about it, the right answer is to just split it in half in a compromise?

Party politics aside, teachers are strong on the ground and the mood solid.Teachers are angry about the lockout, in which we do all our work for 90% of our pay. But spirits are high – we’re giving it our 90%!

Tara Ehrcke is bargaining chair and past president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.

Read More: RankandFile.ca

Metaphors We Bargain By: Labor-Management as Marriage

Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By changed forever complacency about the structure of language by showing how deeply rooted metaphors are constitutive of the way we think and act rather than simply flowery poetic forms of language use. These metaphors are deeply embedded and can be simple (up is good) or multi-faceted (love is a journey; argument is war). Metaphors simplify what is complex or new and they are never neutral but communicate values and ideologies, often shifting or diverting attention in their use.

There is no doubt in British Columbian’s minds the BCTF and the BC government do not have a warm fuzzy relationship. Indeed the working relationship between the two has seriously deteriorated over the past 10+ years. The current labor conflict between the British Columbia Teacher Federation (BCTF) and the British Columbia government has politicians, pundits, students, and others saying labor and management is a marriage. The marriage metaphor now crops up to offer ‘a way forward’ in labor-management in BC public education.

Let’s be clear about one thing to start. This metaphor is not meant to be a universal metaphor for labor-management… would anyone think the locked out IKEA workers and IKEA or the teamsters and the Port Authority are married to one another? Not likely. Here are a few illustrations of the marriage metaphor being used to (re)construct labor-management in BC public education. Note that the inclusion of students as off-spring of the BCTF-BCEd marriage is the core idea upon which the metaphor turns.

Like any troubled marriage, it is ultimately the children who are hurt in the bickering and squabbling. But unlike a family breakup, there are 558,985 public school students affected. Divorce is simply not an option. (Andrew Weaver, MLA)

But unlike a constantly quarreling couple that should just split up and go their separate ways, the provincial government and the teachers’ union can’t get a divorce — not now, not ever. The sour marriage desperately needs counselling, especially if we don’t want the relationship to affect the kids, in this case B.C. students. (Bill Tieleman, The Tyee)

To say a dysfunctional relationship between two parents doesn’t affect the children would be an outrageous lie. The relationship between the BCTF and the province is very much the same and the effects are mostly felt by the students. (Jacob Smith, 12th grade student)

The marriage metaphor, as it is used in these cases, draws on a few key ideas: there is a couple (BCTF and BCEd), they have children (all students in BC schools), and the parents have common goals and whatever differences they have in achieving those goals must be sorted out for the sake of the children (students) because divorce is out of the question (hmmm, what kind of marriage is this?), and if needs be counseling (BC Labor Relations Board Relationship Enhancement Program) should be sought to overcome differences between parents.

Does the Marriage Metaphor Work?

Paranthetically, the marriage metaphor at least gives us a respite from the education as market with children/families as consumers metaphor that is even more ubiquitous in discussions of public education.

So BCTF and BCEd as a troubled married couple with children works if the marriage reflects an abusive relationship, where one partner (BCEd) has forced and bent the other (BCTF) to its will. The fact that twice the BC Supreme Court has ruled that the government acted illegally is plenty of evidence of abuse, and the government’s unwillingness to make things right suggests the abuse is ongoing. (So court rulings as a marital counseling strategy don’t appear effective.)

The marriage metaphor may be more tenuous in assuming that both partners share the same goals, in this case doing right by the kids. Let’s assume that this is a common goal, but what each partner means by doing right by the kids may be fundamentally different. For example, one need not be too cynical to suggest BCEd’s doing right by the kids is to encourage individualism, focus on vocational, jobs oriented education, get those kids out on their own as soon as possible and contribute to the economy. And, although maybe a bit generous, BCTF’s doing right by the kids is in creating a more comfy, tenable, child-friendly workplace for themselves which will in turn make for happy children. These are not trivial, just humorous differences.

And the success of the metaphor hinges on the possibility that counseling will not just be helpful, but will be THE means for overcoming differences. In this counseling BCEd will face up to the fact its been abusive and learn new strategies for being a fair and equitable partner. BCTF will learn new and less disruptive strategies for asserting itself (no more strikes!). (We’ve seen already that legal rulings haven’t been an effective couples therapy, and it’s an open question whether the LRB programs would be.) Meanwhile, the kids are alright (well not really, because this metaphor silences students and strips their agency, in and out of school). I’m no expert on marital counseling, but I’m thinking this remedy has limited potential for success; optimistically, maybe 50-50 for a kiss and make-up and ‘moving forward.’

The labor-management as marriage metaphor diverts attention from fundamental and healthy conflict over the purposes and interests served by public education. The current BC neo-liberal oriented government interests are not the same interests of the poor and working class, First Nations communities, rural and inner city communities, education workers, many parents.

Other Metaphors to Ponder

How ever we think about public education and the relationship between the BCTF and BCEd we will be thinking metaphorically. It’s important for us to use our metaphors wisely and mine them for understanding and taking action. Maybe the marriage metaphor has some traction in finding ‘a way forward’, although I doubt it. Perhaps we should be finding ‘our way home’ or ‘destroying the system’ or ‘moving on,’ but those are metaphors for another day.

Now that we are on to the power of metaphor, let’s think about Labor-Management as…

  • war
  • argument
  • ladder
  • contest
  • duel

Over to you.

#BCed teachers strike #soldaritylookslikethis @FassbenderMLA #bcpoli # yteubc

BCTFstrike2014

Solidarity Looks Like This

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation President Jim Iker and BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair are on the picket line this morning in Vancouver as teachers, parents and students stand together. Yes, Minister Fassbender and BC Liberals, solidarity looks like this. BCTF teachers deserve a fair deal and fair bargaining practices. Minister Fassbender, the BC Federation stands for and with the BCTF teachers, solidarity looks like this.

BCFedBCTFstrike2014

BCTF President Jim Iker and BC Fed President Jim Sinclair on the picket line this morning in Vancouver

#BCed teachers begin rolling strikes #bcpoli #edstudies #yteubc

fair-deal

VESTA, May 24, 2014 /CNW/ – All schools across School District #39 Vancouver will be behind picket lines [today] on Monday May 26th, as local teachers join their colleagues across the province in taking a stand for smaller classes, better support for students, and a fair and reasonable salary increase.

“Teachers in our community, like teachers across BC, don’t take this job action lightly,” said Gerry Kent, President of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association. “As teachers, we care deeply about our students and we empathize with parents who have to rework their schedules. Many of us are parents too, and that is one of the reasons we are taking this action. Parents and all citizens should be dismayed by a decade of annual budget and service cuts made by underfunded school districts across the province. These cuts affect the education of our children and grandchildren.”

Teachers are being forced to step up job action because they have been at the bargaining table for 16 months and the provincial government and the BC Public School Employers’ Association still refuse to offer any improvements to class size, class composition, and other important learning conditions for students. On top of that, the employer’s wage offer is unfair especially considering that the last time teachers got a raise was July 2010.

BC’s per student funding is $1,000 per student less than the national average, a level of underfunding that has had serious consequences across the province. Provincial government underfunding has affected a generation of students since 2002. Supports for students with special needs and English language learners, and other services provided by specialist teachers such as counsellors, librarians, and speech and language pathologists have been eroded because of staffing cuts caused by underfunding.

The rotating closures are part of a two-stage strike plan that teachers approved in March, with an 89% yes vote. Any extension of the rotating job action will depend on developments at the bargaining table.

“Teachers remain committed to reaching a fair deal at the negotiating table.” Kent said. “This government must make education a priority, show respect for the work of teachers and come to the bargaining table with the funds needed to improve supports for students. Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender need to stop the rhetoric and show real leadership. Putting families first requires a strong and well funded public education system.

For more details, please visit www.AFairDeal.ca

SOURCE VESTA: Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association

#BCed teachers may move to rotating strikes #bcpoli #yteubc #edstudies

CBC News, May 12, 2014–Parents in B.C. are being prepared for an escalation in teacher job action should current contract negotiations fail.

Vancouver School Board superintendent of schools, Steve Cardwell hasissued a letter to all parents and guardians warning of potential rotating school closures across the province should a settlement not be reached.

“We understand that the BCTF may choose to escalate their job action to a second phase which could include ‘rotating’ school closures,” the letter states.

“If this were to occur, the union would be providing us 48 hours of notice and we would, of course, advise parents of this action.”

The letter was not intended to alarm parents, says VSB spokesperson Kurt Heinrich. Rather it was intended to keep them in the loop.

“A big part of that is just to make sure that parents aren’t going to be caught unaware of the situation,” he said.

“As soon as we would receive that notice, we would immediately be communicating it to our parent population so they would know what to expect. And then we would go from there “

A  B.C. Teachers’ Federation spokesperson said that while escalating job action is a possibility, there are no plans at the moment to move to stage 2 job action.

During stage 1 action, teachers are refusing to supervise students outside the classroom or communicate in writing with principals and other administrators.

Teachers are still taking attendance, marking and assessing students, completing report cards, communicating with parents and participating in volunteer extracurricular activities.

Their contracts expired last June, and the federation says it’s being forced to take action because negotiations are slow.

Read More: CBC News

Everything you need to know about #bced bargaining (a history) #bcpoli #yteubc

Katie Hyslop, The Tyee, May 4, 2014– It’s been almost a year since British Columbian teachers saw their contracts expire, but the union and its employer couldn’t be further apart at the bargaining table.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has demanded a four-year teacher contract with a 10.75 per cent wage increase, plus 2.75 cost of living increase, a return to the class size and composition rules last seen in 2001, and an increase in the number of specialty teachers like counsellors and teacher librarians hired in B.C. districts. The employer has calculated the union’s wage proposal at 15.9 per cent, assuming the national cost of living index will be 1.5 per cent every year until 2017.*

In contrast, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association is proposing a 10-year deal, with a 1.75 per cent wage increase on ratification. It includes a total 6.5 per cent wage increase over the first six years, with contract negotiations reopened in the sixth year to determine further, if any, wage increases. Class size and composition levels, as imposed by the government through 2012′s Education Improvement Act, would remain the same under the employer’s terms.

Efforts to pressure each other into making concessions have had little effect. Now, over 40,000 members of the teachers’ union are currently in stage one of a three-stage “job action,” after 89 per cent of them voted in favour of a gradual strike last month.

Their employer responded to the action last week by presenting the union with an estimated $5-million bill to cover teachers’ health and welfare benefits premiums in June, unless a negotiated deal is reached before the school year ends — a move the union called illegal.

Current negotiations, ongoing for 15 months, are further complicated by a B.C. Supreme Court decision in January that found the government’s response to an earlier ruling, preventing teachers from bargaining class size and composition levels until after current contract negotiations are settled, was also unconstitutional.

The government appealed the January decision, which is expected to be heard in court in October.

Collective bargaining between the B.C. government and the union has a dizzying, yet important history. The troubles began under the Social Credit government of the 1980s and continued under the New Democratic Party government of the 1990s, but the issue has become much more heated since the current BC Liberal government came to power in 2001. Teachers haven’t forgotten any of it.

Looking back at 13 years of quarrelling, one may find hints to where the current bargaining dispute is headed. If you don’t remember every strike vote or court case, this refresher is for you.

Keep reading: The Tyee

#BCed negotiator confirms BC #Liberals bargained in bad faith with teachers #bcpoli #ubc # yteubc #ubced

Katie Hyslop, The Tyee, March 6, 2014– In a letter to the editor sent to the Creston Valley Advance on March 5, Melanie Joy, a trustee for the Kootenay Lake School District and former chair of the BC Public School Employers Association, said the provincial government bargained in bad faith during the 2011-12 teacher collective agreement negotiations.

Joy, who chaired the negotiating team charged with reaching a deal with the teachers union from 2011 to 2013, said she appreciates current Education Minister Peter Fassbender was not involved in negotiations at the time, but said his assertions that government was fully committed to bargaining a collective agreement with the union 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.”

In 2012, the provincial government introduced the Education Improvement Act, which prevented teachers from negotiating class size and composition limits until after an agreement had been signed, instead setting government’s own class size limits. It also installed a mediator — Charles Jago, a BC Liberal Party donor and author of a 2006 BC Progress Board report that said the province’s education system was “constrained by legislated processes and provisions as well as by labour agreements” — to help reach an agreement between the teachers’ union and its employers.

Joy said the employers’ association and Jago tried their best, and succeeded, in reaching a negotiated deal. But government was disappointed with the effort.

“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.”

Minister Fassbender’s public statements about wanting to reach a long-term negotiated collective agreement in the current round of bargaining is undermined by government’s actions in this area, said Joy, referring specifically to government’s replacement of the employers’ association’s negotiating team this past summer with one government negotiator.

“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 [association's] board with its own public administrator, 2) appoint a government negotiator in the midstream of current [union] bargaining, and 3) replace the senior staff at [the association], tell a very different story.”

Given the ongoing teachers strike action vote, Joy concluded her letter by advising the government to heed Justice Susan Griffin’s recent decision on the unconstitutionality of the Education Improvement Act.

“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.”

Read her entire letter here. Results of the union’s strike action vote will be announced at a BC Teachers’ Federation press conference tonight at 9:30 p.m.

Read More: The Tyee

#BCed teachers overwhelmingly approve strike vote #bcpoli #ubc #ubced #yteubc #edstudies

BCTF News Release, March 6, 2014– A total of 26,051 teachers voted yes in a province-wide vote conducted March 4–6, 2014. In all, 29,301 teachers cast ballots, of whom 89% voted yes.

“With this vote, BC teachers have sent a very clear message to the BC government; it’s time to negotiate in good faith, take back the unreasonable proposals, and offer teachers a fair deal that also provides better support for students,” BCTF President Jim Iker said.

In releasing the results, Iker stressed that there is no immediate action planned. “There will be no job action tomorrow, there will be no job action next week,” Iker said. “Teachers now have 90 days to activate the strike vote with some sort of action. There is no set timing for when we will begin. It will depend entirely on what is happening at the negotiating table and whether or not the government and employers’ association are prepared to be fair and reasonable.

“BC teachers are committed to negotiating a deal at the table. That is our goal. The vote is about putting pressure on both sides to get an agreement. We will work very hard to get that negotiated settlement without any job action. A strike vote is a normal process in labour relations and helps apply pressure to both parties during negotiations.”

If job action becomes necessary, Iker outlined that it will occur in stages, but any initial action will not:

  • include immediate school closures or disruption for students
  • ask teachers to stop participating in extracurricular activities
  • affect report cards or communication with parents.

Any initial job action will be administrative in nature and have no impact on student learning. If, at some point talks stall or government does not move on key areas, that initial job action could escalate into rotating strikes. Once again, it depends on events at the negotiating table. There will be no full-scale walk out as a result of this vote. Such action would require another province-wide vote of the BCTF membership.

“Teachers voted so overwhelmingly in favour because the government has tabled unfair and unreasonable proposals that would undo the class size, class composition, and specialist teacher staffing levels we just won back in a BC Supreme Court Ruling,” said Iker. “The employer’s salary offer is also less than what was given to other public sector workers and ignores how far BC teachers have fallen behind their colleagues across Canada.”

Day of action or general strike in BC? #bced #bcpoli #bcfed #ubc #bced #yteubc

Consistently for well over a decade the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has stepped up for labour leadership, and thereby opened opportunities for every worker in the province. This has meant taking hard stands at the bargaining table, strike votes, job action, and strikes. At each moment this meant giving time and giving up wages so that other and future workers benefit. At each and every step the BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) was there with the BCTF, sitting, standing, and walking beside the teachers. This time is no different as the teachers stand up once again this week to take a strike vote against unfair labour practices.

Make no mistake, a month after a BC Supreme Court finding of the BC Liberals’ underhanded and unfair labour practices, this is a no confidence vote in the Ministers of education and labour if not the government itself. Nearly a decade since mobilizing workers into a general strike capacity in the province, it may be time once again for the BCFED to mobilize a Day of Action. More than 1993 and 1994 or 2004 and 2005, worker and student discontent in BC is boiling over. The BCTF is once again adopting a leadership role and we can expect the BCFED and workers in the province to share in this current stand against unfair labour practices.

#BCed teachers taking strike vote #bcpoli #ubced #ubc #yteubc #edstudies

BCTF, March 4, 2014–After a full year of bargaining and more than 40 sessions at the table, BC teachers have called for a strike vote to push back against major concession demands, an unfair salary offer, and a deliberately confrontational attempt to reverse the recent BC Supreme Court decision on class size, composition, and staffing levels, said BCTF President Jim Iker.

“Teachers care deeply about our schools, our students, and our communities. We don’t take a strike vote lightly,” said Iker. “However, this government seems incapable or unwilling to let the BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiate fairly with teachers. Christy Clark, her government, and BCPSEA are insisting on rollbacks, freezing wages, and ignoring the Supreme Court of British Columbia.”

Iker said he was incredibly disappointed and frustrated as teachers have worked hard this round to create a sense of calm and purpose at the bargaining table. While the last round was dominated by government acting in bad faith, this time teachers were hopeful that new players and a new framework agreement would help both parties reach a fair and reasonable deal….

On the call for today’s strike vote, BCTF President Jim Iker said: “For teachers, our only recourse in response to the unfair, unreasonable, and deliberately confrontational proposals at this point is to apply pressure through a strike vote. Such a vote, however, does not mean imminent school closures.  We will consider all job action options and timing very carefully. Our goal is to reach a negotiated deal at the bargaining table without having to resort to job action.”

Once a strike vote is taken, a union has 90 days to activate it with some sort of job action.

The BCTF strike vote will take place on March 4, 5, and 6, 2014.  Results will be announced on the evening of March 6.

Job action, if needed, will occur in stages, but any initial action will not:

  • include immediate school closures or disruption for students.
  • stop teachers from participating in extracurricular activities.
  • affect report cards or communication with parents.

Any escalation of job action will depend on progress at the negotiating table.

#BCed teachers call strike vote against unreasonable government #bcpoli #bced #yteubc #ubc #edstudies

BCTF, February 25, 2014– After a full year of bargaining and more than 40 sessions at the table, BC teachers have called for a strike vote to push back against major concession demands, an unfair salary offer, and a deliberately confrontational attempt to reverse the recent BC Supreme Court decision on class size, composition, and staffing levels, said BCTF President Jim Iker.

“Teachers care deeply about our schools, our students, and our communities. We don’t take a strike vote lightly,” said Iker. “However, this government seems incapable or unwilling to let the BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiate fairly with teachers. Christy Clark, her government, and BCPSEA are insisting on rollbacks, freezing wages, and ignoring the Supreme Court of British Columbia.”

Iker said he was incredibly disappointed and frustrated as teachers have worked hard this round to create a sense of calm and purpose at the bargaining table. While the last round was dominated by government acting in bad faith, this time teachers were hopeful that new players and a new framework agreement would help both parties reach a fair and reasonable deal.

Since January 27, when the BC Supreme Court released its ruling that found the Christy Clark government had acted in bad faith, BCPSEA has tabled unreasonable proposals:

  • New language that would yet again strip all provisions on class size, class composition, and staffing levels for teacher-librarians, counsellors, special education, and other specialist teachers.
  • A salary offer that starts with a 0.5% increase on the date of ratification. The increase is not retroactive. Because the previous contract expired last June, this means zero for all of 2013–14 school year to date. The proposal is followed by another zero for 2014–15 school year and then various ones and point fives over the next four years. The last four years of the 10-year term, an idea teachers rejected in June by a province-wide vote of 96%, features an ill-defined indexing scheme that even BCPSEA’s negotiators could not explain.

“The move to once again strip class size, composition, and staffing levels from teachers just days after the BC Supreme Court’s ruling showed total disrespect for the law, for teachers, and for students,” said Iker. “This government, through BCPSEA, is trying to pretend Justice Griffin’s ruling never happened. Their proposal to eliminate class size, class composition, and staffing levels would ‘supersede and replace all previous articles that addressed class size, composition, and staffing levels.’ For 12 years teachers have worked to defend our rights, our working conditions, and our students’ learning conditions, and once again we find ourselves facing a government focused only on confrontation.”

On the salary front, BCPSEA’s offer means BC teachers are being asked to take up to two more years of zeros after no salary increases in 2011–12 and 2012–13.

“Despite most other public sector workers receiving increases in the range of 3.5 to 4% over two years as part of the co-operative gains mandate, the government has directed BCPSEA to pursue a totally different agenda with teachers,” said Iker. “Trying to force wage freezes on teachers for another two years is not reasonable or fair, given what the government negotiated with other workers in the public sector. Teachers are asking for an increase that addresses the rising cost of living and a market adjustment that reflects how far we are behind other teachers in Canada. We believe that’s fair and reasonable.

“BC teachers cannot sit back and let Christy Clark and her government talk about labour peace in public, while trying once again to provoke teachers behind closed doors. We will do everything we can to secure a fair deal for teachers and better support for our students.”

Read More: BCTF Press release

CUPE BC launches ad campaign to avert strike in public schools #bcpoli

CUPE BC, August 25, 2013– CUPE’s education workers [launched] a radio and television advertising campaign on Monday focused on building support for the union members’ work to keep BC’s schools clean, safe, and inclusive.

“We’ve made every effort to bargain a fair and reasonable settlement with the employers, but their lack of preparation is threatening to disrupt classes this fall,” said Mark Hancock, CUPE-BC President.

CUPE education workers’ collective agreements throughout the province expired over a year ago. Previous negotiations in spring 2013 were derailed when it became clear that government had not given the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) a mandate to reach a settlement.

BCPSEA is now directly controlled by the BC government, but it was not prepared for the latest round of bargaining in August when talks broke off for a third time.

“If the government doesn’t show a commitment to bargaining, our members will take full-scale job action,” said Colin Pawson, Chair of the BC K-12 Presidents’ Council. “They’re frustrated that we’ve had three false starts to negotiating, and the clock is ticking.”

It has been more than four years since the education assistants, clerical staff, trades, custodians, bus drivers and other education workers represented by CUPE have received a wage increase. Virtually all of the 57 CUPE locals representing education workers have had positive strike votes.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents more than 27,000 education BC workers in the K-12 system.

Listen to the radio ad here.
View the TV ad here.

See more at: http://www.cupe.bc.ca/news/3148#sthash.Z5mNdsd2.dpuf

CUPE BC education workers’ strike mandate set

CUPE BC, July 10, 2013– After the first week of summer vacation for students, education workers across the province are resolved to make sure BC schools are clean, safe, and inclusive.  The 27,000 CUPE education workers have voted to strike in almost all of the 57 K-12 Locals, in 53 school districts.

Going without a wage increase since 2009, CUPE education workers remain hopeful for funded settlements that would see similar agreements as were achieved for other public sector employees.

“CUPE education workers want a fair settlement with the provincial government,” said Colin Pawson, President of CUPE Local 1091 in Delta and Chair of the CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council. “Without any adjustment of wages for more than 4 years, it is time the people who keep our children’s schools working are respected.”

Both CUPE K-12 Locals and school boards agree that needs of students must be at the forefront of negotiations. This sentiment had been clearly expressed by school boards early this year and is now being reaffirmed to the new Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender.

Most recently, School District 33 in Chilliwack expressed “grave concerns” to the Minister that for the BC Government to realize long-term labour peace “the best interest of students and the implementation flexibility of Boards may be marginalized.”

“We further urge your Ministry to provide funding for a reasonable increase for our CUPE staff and any wage changes considered for our teaching staff in this round of bargaining,” said Chilliwack School District Chair Walt Krahn and Vice Chair Silvia Dyck in a letter to the Minister.

“Any agreement is only successful if all sides have been considered and the delivery of public education can continue to meet the needs in the most cost effective manner,” the letter stated.

CUPE education workers include education assistants, clerical staff, trades, aboriginal workers, youth and family workers, custodians, and bus drivers.

After 12 year slumber, BC Liberals dream of 10 year deals

Save for summer school, July and August are typically months during which teachers catch up on life and professional development or find down time after the intensity of stressors of the school year. For the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), this is commonly a time to strategize or coordinate leadership teams. Following an era of astute, outstanding leadership by Susan Lambert, Jim Iker begins his term as President of the BCTF facing pressures from the BC Public School Employers’ Association to shift contract negotiations to plans for a 10 year deal through to 2024.

BC Liberals Education Minister Peter Fassbender begins his term having to defend the pipe dream. One might imagine that this is a Rip van Winkle fairy tale, wherein after sleeping on the job of contract negotiations for 12 years, the BC Liberals now want to make a dream of a 10 year deal come true.  This would be a generous, made-for-preschoolers reading of the situation. The Buddhist policy wonk might say that the Liberals didn’t snooze but meditated on contracts for a dozen years to reach this 2024 vision of clarity. Either could be true, and there you have it…

Iker is clear about the BCTF’s position:

We’re open to a longer term deal, but we know that deal has to represent a fair deal for our members and has to provide more support for our students and more one-on-one time in particular for our students. It has to deal with the issues of class size, class composition and learning specialist ratios. This is also part of our court case, which is ongoing and we’ve got 19 days (in court) in September. It also has to address our salaries; we’ve fallen way behind our teacher counterparts across Canada. For any successful round of bargaining, you need resources brought to the table….

I don’t rule out a longer term deal. Do I rule out a 10-year deal? Yes. We had an education minister in February who told us that no government could never commit to funding 10 years of indexing and that’s one of their pieces. Part of our responsibility is to advocate for public education, for our students and for the funding. We will continue to do that and some people would think the idea of the 10-year deal is just to silence us for 10 years, but we’re not going to be silenced because people expect us to advocate on behalf of students.

When asked by the Vancouver Sun what he “thought of the government decision to remove the bargaining mandate from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and appoint negotiator Peter Cameron?,” Iker responded:

I’m not sure what this move actually is because we’ve been at a bargaining table where really, the employer has had no mandate in terms of resources…. We were actually hoping to reach an agreement by the end of June. That was our goal. If we’re going to be negotiating directly with government, I guess that’s fine, as long as it’s at the bargaining table. Peter Cameron has been hired by the Ministry of Education, but is he going to represent government? That’s still to be determined. We will see in September who actually is across the table from us.

 Read more: Vancouver Sun

BC Teachers Federation scores landmark victory in academic freedom and freedom of expression #bcpoli

Well, it turns out that Dr. Seuss’s initial impression during the war that you can’t achieve a substantial victory out of turtles turns out to be wrong! This past week, after 3 years or a decade, depending how its measured, the BC Teachers’ Federation scored one of the most substantial court victories in academic and intellectual freedom for teachers in the last thirty years. The victory provides a substantial defense of educators’ civil liberties and free expression, critical education methods of instruction. And what’s more, it is a significant victory for students’ rights to critical content in the schools.

On 21 May, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision on the BCTF v. BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) / Board of Education of School District No. 5.  The case concerned “the extent to which teachers’ expression of political views on education issues in public schools is protected freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:”

The political expressions in issue were messages critical of specific government education policies, contained on posters posted on classroom doors and school bulletin boards, and on buttons worn by teachers. Pursuant to a directive from the school district that political posters and information should not be displayed in school hallways, classrooms, or on school grounds, some principals told teachers to stop displaying the posters and wearing the buttons.

This case dates specifically to January 2009, when campaign materials, such as posters and buttons, were circulated by the BCTF to teachers across the province. On 23 April 2009, the Director of Instruction and HR from School District No. 5 (Southeast Kootenay) forwarded a directive principals in the district advising them that the BCTF’s political materials had no place on school grounds other than the staff room. On 1 May 2009, the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers’ Association forwarded a note to the Director advising that it disagreed with the 23 April directive.  Following a grievance filed by the BCTF, an arbitrator heard the case in March 2010 and denied the grievance, awarding in favour of the BCPSEA in October 2011.

The BCTF appealed the decision. Within Tuesday’s BC Court of Appeal decision is some of the strongest language for a defense of academic freedom for teachers and critical education methods:

There was no evidence in this case of any actual or potential harm to students from being exposed to the materials about educational issues, nor any facts from which an inference of harm could be drawn. On the contrary, Canadian jurisprudence, including Munroe, stands for the principle that open communication and debate about public, political issues is a hallmark of the free and democratic society the Charter is designed to protect. Children live in this diverse and multi-cultural society, and exposing them to diverse societal views and opinions is an important part of their educational experience.

Simply put, “the law supports the exercise by teachers of their right of free expression in schools.”

Court of Appeal Justice Hinkson provides a caveat:

I see no reason why students should receive less protection from the monopolization of the discourse of a societal issue than adults who are subjected to a flood of discourse on an electoral issue by proponents of one side to that issue. In the case of the students, the monopolization on the issue may deprive them of their right to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

Where the issue upon which teachers choose to exercise their rights to free speech is a political one, their rights must be balanced against the rights of their students to an education that is free from bias. That brings into play, as it did in Harper, the concern that if a group is able to monopolize its message on any issue, competing views will be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to be heard…. However, the proportionality aspects of s. 1 of the Charter reserve for another case the evidence required to establish and the point at which teachers’ rights of freedom of expression in schools must yield to the rights of students to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

This landmark decision  will certainly be put to test, as the case more generally dates back to over a decade of to-and-fro decisions over academic freedom for BC teachers and their right to free expression. Indeed, one of the best case studies of political speech and symbolic speech is that of the BCTF v. the BC Ministry of Education and BCPSEA from about 2002 to this present decision. Throughout this decade, BC teachers have progressively and systematically tested their rights to political and symbolic speech: posters on school bulletin boards, black arm bands, buttons, letters to parents, t-shirts, bumper stickers on cars in the school parking lot, and wearing black clothes.

“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

In April 2012, amidst another round of disputed bargaining practices and the government’s imposition of the controversial Bill 22, teachers raised questions: “A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.”

Eight teachers in the Prince Rupert district received letters warning of “discipline for displaying political messages.” Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ local said “the administration doesn’t want students to see the messages.” “We feel very censored here right now. We have feelings that our rights to freedom of expression have been violated.”

To accent the 11th anniversary of BC government’s oppressive bills 27 and 28, which prevented the teachers from bargaining on issue such as class size, the BCTF and teachers organized a protest for January 28, 2013– a “Dark Day for Education” and “Wear Black Day.” Teachers wore black in their classrooms while the BCPSEA cautioned that “regardless of the colour of attire worn, teachers should not engage students in discussion about their political views.” Some teachers in Prince Rupert responded with new black t-shirts, this time remediating Shakespeare and quoting section 2(b) from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But three teachers  were told to remove or cover the shirts.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) weighed in on 4 February 2013 by forwarding a letter to the Prince Rupert School Board and arguing that the ban was unconstitutional: “The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA. “The School District has an obligation to respect free speech, and there is no lawful justification for the District to ban these t-shirts.”

Of course, quoting or paraphrasing one’s civil liberties in defiance has been part and parcel of protests throughout the past 300 years. And arguably one of the best political works in the Dr. Seuss catalog, Yertle the Turtle has for five decades been used for purposes of instruction in the classroom and symbolic and political speech, inside and out. Notoriously, the Red Hot Chili Peppers first rocked their expressive version of Yertle the Turtle in 1985. Most recently leading up to the Prince Rupert teacher’s utilization of parts of the text, Yertle the Turtle was used in the protests at the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 and the Occupy movement beginning in September 2011.

ICES colleague E. Wayne Ross recently articulated the necessity of “dangerous citizenship”— “critical citizenship, or social justice oriented citizenship” and civil liberties citizenship— in opposition to liberal notions of “good citizenship” that somehow pass for education in the schools. “There is a misguided and unfortunate tendency in our society to believe that  activities that strengthen or maintain the status quo are neutral or at least non-political,” Wayne observes, “while activities that critique or challenge the status quo are ‘political’ and inappropriate.”

A breath of fresh air, Tuesday’s decision from the BC Court of Appeal changes the tide for teachers. BCTF President Susan Lambert was buoyed by the decision, noting that

it’s about the right of teachers to express their concerns about the working conditions that they teach in and the learning conditions the students are taught in… It’s very important that we as a society encourage teachers to express their views and that we take those views seriously…. You don’t discuss and encourage critical thinking in children by shielding them from diverse views.