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