GIVEN the lack of progress in negotiations, the BCTF Executive Committee has voted to extend the strike to summer school if a fair settlement that improves learning conditions for students is not reached by June 30, BCTF President Jim Iker said on Wednesday. Teachers will set up picket lines at worksites where summer school is located.
“Both parties, separated by only 1%, are well within reach of an agreement on wages,” said Iker. “The holdup is now a lack of commitment from government to adequately fund improvements to class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers.
“Christy Clark’s 2002 legislation, twice ruled unconstitutional, allowed this government to strip $275 million a year from BC’s education system. The result is 12 years of underfunding that has led BC to become the second worst province on per student funding. It’s time to start closing that gap so we can start a new school year in September with additional funding to properly support BC students.”
In order to get a fair deal for teachers and better support for students, BC teachers are seeking a deal that is based on five key points:
* a five-year term
* a reasonable 8% salary increase plus signing bonus
* no concessions
* an annual workload fund that adequately addresses issues of class size, class composition, and staffing ratios as an interim measure while both parties await the next court ruling
* a retroactive grievances fund, as a resolution to Justice Griffin’s BC Supreme Court decision that retroactively restored the stripped language from 2002. This fund would be used to address other working conditions like preparation time and TTOC compensation improvements, as well as modest improvements to health benefits.
“I still believe that a fair deal is attainable, but getting there will require new movement from government on the critical issues of class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers,” said Iker. “If the government does not come with new funding to reach a fair settlement by June 30, teachers are prepared to extend the strike into summer and picket out summer school. This was not a decision we made lightly, but we cannot allow government to continue to underfund BC’s education system.
“Christy Clark and the employers’ bargaining team must come to mediation with open minds, some flexibility, and willingness to compromise. We’re pleased that exploratory talks between the BCTF and BCPSEA about the way forward and our call for mediation are scheduled for today.”
According to Ministry of Education data, summer school is offered in 26 of BC’s 60 school districts and about 10% of BC students enrol. This year’s estimate is for 53,600 students.
The BCTF Executive Committee made the decision to extend the strike to summer school should a fair, negotiated deal not be reached by June 30, during a meeting on June 23.
The government has applied to the Labour Relations Board to vary the essential services order. The BCTF will reply at an upcoming case management meeting.
EDUCATION Minister Peter Fassbender responded by stating:
“On Sunday, the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) tabled an affordable, creative and comprehensive package to end the stalemate, get kids back in school and create long-term stability for parents, student and teachers.
“That comprehensive offer for settlement included the special $1,200 signing bonus for a deal by June 30, an improved wage offer, guaranteed funding for class composition, and bridging provisions to address the court case.
“The comprehensive package is fully in line with the wage increases and affordable agreements already reached by nearly 150,000 public sector workers. It was not tabled lightly. It was made clear to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) that we put our best possible offer on the table and it was aimed at concluding this round of bargaining.
“On Wednesday, the BCTF presented their full set of demands. They filled in their blanks and clarified their positions. And instead of moving us closer, their latest demands moved them further away from the affordability zone for public sector settlements.
“Their wage and benefit demands alone are more than twice what other unions have settled for. On top of that, they are pushing for hundreds of millions more each year in other contract demands.
“I’m disappointed. We are now further away from an agreement than we were a week ago. We want to give teachers a raise but the BCTF leadership is making that virtually impossible.
“What BCPSEA has offered is already at the very limit of what we can afford. We cannot split the difference. Our government has a fundamental commitment to balance the budget and we have an obligation to deal fairly with all 300,000 B.C. public sector workers.
“I want to be clear that BCPSEA is not walking away from the table and we remain committed to reaching an agreement by June 30. Nor is government interested in legislating a contract.
“We appreciate that brings with it the possibility that this strike could go on for quite a while. How long it will last is entirely up to the BCTF – but any hope of timely resolution will require the BCTF executive to be realistic.
“We accept that they want to get the best possible deal for their members, but teachers need to understand that the best possible deal is one that lands squarely in the same affordable zone as the settlements government has already reached with other public sector unions.
“The government and BCPSEA remain committed to working with the BCTF achieve the best possible deal for teachers – while keeping it fair for other workers and affordable for taxpayers.”