Update: After year of bargaining, teachers consider escalating job action

This story has been updated since first published.

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B.C. teachers have started making a tentative plan for escalating job action, in case mediation fails.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring sent an email to teachers on Monday, outlining a plan for job action, should mediation fail.

Teachers and their employer have been bargaining for a year and have been in mediation for months. Mediator David Schaub released a report in November, after 58 days of bargaining and 16 days of mediation, which said only three issues had been resolved.

Mooring’s email stresses that the BCTF is still committed to the mediation process.

“Our goal is to achieve a good deal for teachers at the bargaining table,” Mooring says in the email, which was provided to media. “We will not initiate any job action or strike of any kind while mediation is ongoing.”

The plan, approved by a group of teacher leaders on the weekend, calls for a four-stage job action. The first stage would see teachers continue to put pressure on the government through communications. The second stage would see a withdrawal ofadministrative tasks, like attending staff meetings, as well as a ban on specialist teachers, like librarians or resource teachers, covering for teachers who are absent. Only teachers on call hired specifically to fill in for teachers who are away would be able to cover for teacher absences, the email says.

“This part of Phase 2 is designed to expose the teacher shortage and put pressure on administrators and school boards,” the email says.

Earlier reports about the plan said this phase would see teachers refuse to do extracurricular activities, like coaching sports teams, however that was changed at the weekend gathering.

The third stage would bring rotating strikes, organized by each district and the fourth stage would see a province-wide strike. The second, third and fourth phases would all require separate strike votes, the email says.

In 2014, B.C. teachers were on strike for five weeks, over a period that stretched through the summer. That strike came after 16 months of failed bargaining and included a partial lockout and a 10-per-cent wage reduction. In the ramp-up period there were a couple of weeks of rotating strikes where several districts at a time would be closed for one day per week. As the strike wore on, the government paid parents $40 a day to cover the cost of childcare for kids under the age of 12.

Eventually, with the help of a mediator, a negotiated six-year deal was reached, bringing labour peace.

Mooring’s email says the mediator has assured the BCTF there will be more meetings scheduled this month. InNovember, teachers rejected the mediator’s recommendation of a two-per-cent wage increase in each of the next three years with a rollover of the rest of the contract, including class size, class composition and specialist teacher ratios, where they exist. Those rules were restored in 2016 by the Supreme Court of Canada, but they are not universal across B.C.

Earlier last year, the two sides were far apart on negotiating those rules, with teachers wanting the entire province to level up and the employer wanting districts with strong language to concede so that others could gain.

In November, Mooring said teachers rejected the offer because of low starting salaries, low wages overall and a provincial teacher shortage. She said teachers were willing to accept three years of two-per-cent increases, but only with some modifications to salary grids, which she said do not trigger “me too” clauses for other unions.

“Teachers in B.C. need a salary boost that will bring them closer to our counterparts in other provinces,” the email says. “A deal that meets the needs of both parties is achievable but it’s going to take political will from the BC NDP government and new funding to get the job done.”

Finance Minister Carole James told the Globe and Mail last week that this year’s provincial budget, to be released on Feb. 18, won’t offer any new money.

The province will spend $6.6 billion on education this year, including about $400 million to pay for nearly 4,000 new teachers who were hired as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

In his November report, the mediator said there was a “disconnect” preventing a collective agreement.

“A failure to do so would be a missed opportunity to address the issues such as class size, class composition, teacher salary grids and attraction and retention or teachers.”

Let’s hope both sides are ready to find a way forward now, so students and their parents can relax and focus on learning.


 

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