The History of BC Liberal Acrimony with the BCTF

In the 1990s the NDP created a bargaining framework for the BCTF that was much more friendly to government. They got rid of local bargaining in order to prevent “whip-sawing”, which was the union using good deals in some districts as leverage for deals in other districts. Instead, there would now be province-wide bargaining, giving the government much more control.

The teachers didn’t like this, but as the 90s closed, local deals got finished, and provincial bargaining came into effect.

By 2001, full province-wide bargaining was in force for the new Liberal government with the Education Minister being none other than Christy Clark. The government at that time curtailed bargaining and created legislation which stripped the provisions of the existing contract. Contract stripping is illegal. It has been found over and over again to be an infringement against labour law and against collective bargaining rights protected by the Charter.

This was the beginning of the acrimony between the government and teachers. Given that the Christy Clark government has never implemented the court-ordered restitution for the 2002 contract stripping (Bill 28), and given that they have repeated word-for-word the same impugned contract stripping legislation as recently as 2012 (in Bill 22), the government has continued to ensure that this acrimony can never go away.

Furthermore, the government keeps jabbing at teachers with punitive little stunts – first trying to charge the union for benefits during the work-to-rule campaign, then trying to dock teachers’ pay, all the while refusing to negotiate on class size and composition.

I keep hearing pundits talk about the long war between the government and the BCTF. This is false equivalence. The BCTF has never done anything that other unions don’t do, but the government has certainly done things that no employer should ever do – including violating Charter rights.

And this is no small thing! Teachers were beside themselves with anger and resentment when the government did this in 2002 and again in 2012. They knew it was illegal, and they were terribly offended. They continue to be offended. To be told that they don’t have a right that others have feels like so much betrayal.

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BC Teachers’ salary increases compared to inflation.

By Joseph Kravjanski
Using the Bank of Canada’s Inflation Calculator:
What cost $100 in 2000 now costs $131.65 – a 31.65% increase in living costs to the public over 13.5 years.
Using BC’s statistics it still still amounts to a 24.95% increase. I would be surprised to know if the average person’s wage has even kept pace.
Teachers’ cumulative increases over the same time period amount to 21.3%
As far as hours worked many mistakenly look at the work day being from 8:30 to 3:00 with maybe a 1/2 hour lunch and no coffee breaks. This would amount to a 30 hour week if that were it. However, when you factor in instruction preparation, marking, internal and parental e-mails and meetings with both parents, administration and committees you’re more in the 50 to 60 hour a week range. Spring and Christmas breaks still involve the non instructional preps I mentioned to some degree as does Summer vacation (typically 1 week after schools close and 1 to 2 weeks before schools reopen are spent cleaning up, ordering materials and planning for the coming school year).
Also misunderstood is the fact that Professional Days were added to the school year calendar from days that would not have been instructional days (days from after the school year would have ended) to allow teachers to keep pace with changes by taking workshops and schools to provide in-school training for administration-determined pertinent issues (of 6 Pro-D Days, 3 are school admin. controlled, 1 is a Provincial Specialists Association controlled and 2 are district/teacher controlled).
When you use the 50 hour week over the year (if you want to claim that teachers only work 36 weeks as so many claim, not the more accurate numbers I alluded to above) it would amount to about 1,800 hours a year, at 60 it would be 2,160 hours a year. Oh, and that doesn’t include the time spent coaching and running clubs which are extra-curricular (that means that they are things that teachers do that are not part of their teaching responsibilities or job description, never have been. In the US coaches are paid for spending their time coaching school sports). Compare that to a regular worker with a 37.5 hour week job and 2 weeks vacation accumulating 1,875 work hours a year.I consider myself extremely lucky to have the job that I do but I also believe that there needs to be some balance between encouraging profitable business and making sure that we keep a skilled and motivated work force that at least keeps up with inflation. I don’t pretend to know what everyone’s job involves; therefore I try not to make assumptions based on misconceptions and innuendo. There are good workers and bad workers in every job capacity in every profession. Always have been, always will be. There are protocols in place to deal with these situations. Are they perfect? No. Do they always work? No. Do managers avail themselves of proper procedures to rid themselves of bad workers? Not always. Sometimes due to being overwhelmed themselves, sometimes because they themselves are sub standard. We’re human and nothing we do is perfect.

I’ve gone on now for quite a bit. Whether it will make any of you reflect critically I don’t know.

PS. Since 2007 BC MLA’s salaries have gone from $76.100 to $101,859 (not including pension, stipends and expenses). In 7 years that amounts to a 33.85% increase. I thought there was a Net Zero Mandate.

What you should know about the lockout of BC teachers

The sequence of events in the BC government’s proposed lockout of teachers is important.

The lockout fiasco began with the employer putting school boards on notice that teachers would be locked out of all activities that didn’t fall between 45 minutes before classes begin and 45 minutes after they end. Furthermore, teachers weren’t to do any work during student lunch hours, or outside of school hours.

Presumably the rationale behind this is to justify the employer’s reducing teacher wages by 5% (10% if they strike).

Teachers immediately began asking questions:

How could they run grad (Grad committees are typically run by teachers – not parents and administrators)? Dry grad and other grad activities are supervised by teachers.

When will they do their marking? The notice included activities related to teaching even when not on campus.

How will they supervise government exams? – Government exams run into the normal lunch hour, and outside of the 45 minute mandate.

How will they teach academy classes that fall outside the normal timetable?

What will happen to all-day and overnight field trips?

Can they still run drama productions?

How will they complete report cards if they are locked out of “evaluating education programs”?

How will they mark government exams if they are locked out completely on the day after the exam?

Clearly, the employer had not thought this through. Some of these issues were brought up during press conferences and on social media. The employer hastily scrambled to amend the lockout notice. The back-pedalling was almost comical.

So everyone is locked out with the following EXCEPTIONS

People who are running all-day or overnight field trips.

People who are attending grad (still not sure if teachers are allowed to speak at or attend/supervise  grad-related activities like grad dinner or dry grad.).

People running extracurricular programs.

Elementary teachers who still have students in classrooms while high school teachers do not. (To be fair, this idea was part of the initial notice, but unions don’t understand a lockout of only some of their employees and not others.)

Teachers will still be required to mark government exams.

AND

Teacher must still do all duties related to teaching – grading, lesson preparation etc. even though this will fall outside of the lockout time.

This all begs a question. What exactly are teachers locked out of? My own thinking is that if you lock out employees, you close down the work place and dock their pay.

All of this points to a few facts:

1. The employer does not understand what its own employees do. It failed to anticipate the consequences of locking out teachers, and has had to “unlock” them out.

2. The employer does NOT understand labour law and unionism. It believes that it can lock out employees without affecting the output of the employees.

3. The employer is incompetent. Any corporation that has this much disconnect between itself and its employees wouldn’t last a year.

4. THERE IS NO REAL LOCKOUT

P.S. The government has been scrambling to clarify their position on the lockout through Q and A sheets. However, the only official pronouncement to the BCTF has been the original lockout notice, which contained no clarifications. In other words, the government is not providing a clear directive to the BCTF.

By this, they hope to cause confusion through mixed interpretation among BCTF members. However, teachers tend to be a pretty open-minded and tolerant lot (necessary to the job). A tactic like this may cause confusion, but it won’t break solidarity. In fact, any angst among teachers tends to be blamed on the government’s 12 year policy of goading and underfunding. 

Using children as pawns – a disingenuous narrative

Children are not being used as “pawns” by teachers. A pawn is the foot soldier who is placed at the vanguard because he is expendable.

Far from expendable, children are the very focus of education. Labour negotiations in education are about finding a balance between best practice for the children and compensating the employees who contribute to their learning environment. The fight for improved class size and composition can only benefit children, allowing for better learning environments, more individual teacher time, assignments that can be more “in depth” and collaborative. The benefits of an improved workplace for teachers are shared with students.

The “students as pawns” narrative is disingenuous. Many students miss school for various reasons throughout the year – including trips planned by their parents. Students are never harmed by a few days lost to job action. As a parent, I don’t really worry terribly much about my daughter’s learning if she misses a couple of days of school.

What I DO worry about is her missing out on fun experiences, especially if I’ve paid for them. For example, I don’t want her to miss her overnight camping trip because of job action. She’s my kid and I sympathize with her. If she is sad, I feel sad for her. I would even be more upset if my child had to miss out on a life milestone like grad, for which teachers do the bulk of the volunteer work. But a lost camping trip is not the end of the world.

Teachers are not monks. They love their work, but their work should not be the most important thing in their lives. They have families, rent payments and lives outside of the school. Most are primary breadwinners. We can’t expect them to passively accept contracts that cause them to lose ground relative to the cost of living.

And they are professionals. They care about what they do. They want to maximize their effectiveness with children, and they’re frustrated as hell when their efficacy is reduced by classes that are unmanageable. Teachers, like all people care about doing their job well.

So when a strike happens, we need to have a little respect. Teachers don’t take job action lightly. No one wants to lose pay, and no one wants to have a negative effect on students.

We will have our opinions, and we may even wish to be activist in teacher issues inasmuch as their work environment is our children’s learning environment, but our activism should be based on an understanding of the issues, and not just on selfish concerns for my own convenience. Workers have no recourse but to withdraw their services when their negotiations fail. If they feel so strongly about an issue that they’re willing to risk going without pay, we really ought to give them the benefit of a doubt.

A colleague’s note to her fellow teachers

What follows is a piece written by a colleague of mine. If you are a teacher, you’ll recognize the emotion expressed.
If you are NOT a teacher, you might do well to know what’s in teachers’ hearts: the fierce love we feel for our students –our hope and fear about the what the future holds for them, and our disenfranchisement as our government has cut public school funding from 26% of total budget to 15% of total budget over the course of my career.

My beloved colleagues:

These past several weeks have been a blow to my soul; causing a despondency I have never felt in the 13 years of my teaching career – and believe me, I have had some low points.  Several times throughout those 13 years I have had to re-adjust, re-evaluate, and re-focus on what really, profoundly matters about what we do:  the kids.

“The kids”  – that faceless blob of humanity to everyone else in the world: retailers, advertisers, facebook.

But not to us.  To Us they are not “the kids,” they are Our Kids – our kids with names, stories, souls.  Souls to which we minister every day we have them in our lives…in school and after.  And the more challenging the life, the deeper we minister.

Over the past several weeks, as I desperately tried to put one foot in front of the other to come to a job so loathed by the government which pays me, I have had not one but 6 separate grads come to visit, a dozen or more wish me a happy Mother’s Day, and just drop a note to say thank you for something I said or did 10 years ago.  These meetings/conversations have helped me to keep going; to re-focus.

We cannot be forced down by a government which cares nothing for any vulnerable group because we are the only stop gap in an entire social system which is being flayed by the same people who are trying to strip us of our dignity, our confidence, and our rights.  We are the only thing holding this mess together for kids who have nothing and no one.

We breed revolution by teaching kids how to question and think for themselves and to speak truth to power.  We are the keepers of the future.

I have said it over and over again:  the government hates us because the government fears us – we have, as a captive audience, the minds of future voters.

My beloved colleagues, know in these times of despondency that you make the world. Period.  You are creators of all that kids need to be successful as HUMAN BEINGS.  Teachers saved my life – as a kid and as an adult.

Each of us matters. Period.  There may be many of us but we are neither interchangeable nor dispensable.  We matter.  Every one of you can think of at least one kid in whose life you have made a difference.  The government can’t cut that.

Comparing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Adolf Hitler

It’s a big-time taboo to compare any leader in a democracy to the notorious Adolf Hitler. People are justifiably loathe to ascribe to anyone the pathology that would lead Hitler to commit such terrible atrocities. I suggest that by NOT making comparisons, we are putting ourselves more at risk for some version of the same thing happening in our own place and time.

When we think of Hitler, we think mainly of the ultimate atrocity that he committed: genocide against the Jews. The horror of it is how coldly systematic and how terrible it was. Compared to this atrocity, the other transgressions of Hitler are diminished. But we mustn’t forget those other transgressions. We mustn’t forget that Hitler’s ability to create a totalitarian dictatorship depended on a lot of initial groundwork.

I don’t actually believe that the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is a deranged psychopath of the order of Adolph Hitler. Nonetheless, he is the leader of a nation, and as such, wields power that has the potential to cause much harm, as well as much good. Therefore, we are fools NOT to compare his proclivities to those of world leaders throughout history – including Adolf Hitler.

Here is a laundry list of things that Harper has done that scare me:

1. He has used the media extensively to advertise his initiatives, and to discredit his adversaries. This is called propaganda.

2. He has allowed the surveillance of his own people, including using a state-sponsored spy agency.

3. He has demonstrated extremely right of centre policy attitudes.

4. He has identified a religion as the biggest threat to Canadian security (“Islamicism”).

5. He has used legislation to attack trade unions.

6. He has tried to politicize and discredit the judiciary.

7. He has espoused extremely unorthodox science in order to squelch environmental issues.

8. He has suppressed intellectuals, especially those who might stand in the way of his policies.

9. He has an almost pathological obsession with controlling the dissemination of information.

10. He has increased penalties for crimes.

11. He has covered up manipulations of elections.

12. He is currently creating policy that will give him an electoral advantage.

13. He has increased the militarization of the country.

14. He has, through an advertising campaign, and through funding (and de-funding) initiatives, tried to re-create the history of Canada as a militaristic history.

These are but a few observations. As I have already said, I don’t believe that Harper is a mad dictator like Adolf Hitler, but I DO compare his behaviours to Hitler’s. Why shouldn’t I? And I DO think that in many ways, he is taking Canada down a very unhealthy path.

I haven’t bothered to substantiate my claims with links or references. I would appreciate measured comments that take issue with my concerns, as much as I’d appreciate comments supporting them.

 

Government’s threat to charge BCTF for benefits: Why it is unenforceable, and what it shows about the BC Liberals

In recent labour talks with BC teachers, Peter Cameron, chief negotiator for the BC Public Employer’s Association (BCPSEA), has put the teachers on notice that it intends to force their union to pay for employee benefits. To justify this action, it cites Article 62 of the BC Labour Code.

Below is a copy of Article 62. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Continuation of benefits

62  (1) If employees are lawfully on strike or lawfully locked out, their health and welfare benefits, other than pension benefits or contributions, normally provided directly or indirectly by the employer to the employees must be continued if the trade union tenders payment to the employer or to any person who was before the strike or lockout obligated to receive the payment

(a) in an amount sufficient to continue the employees’ entitlement to the benefits, and

(b) on or before the regular due date of that payment.

(2) If subsection (1) is complied with

(a) the employer or other person referred to in that subsection must accept the payment tendered by the trade union, and

(b) a person must not deny to an employee a benefit described in that subsection, including coverage under an insurance plan, for which the employee would otherwise be eligible, because the employee is participating in a lawful strike or is lawfully locked out.

(3) A trade union and an employer may agree in writing to specifically exclude the operation of this section.

The above section is meant to ensure that employees continue to receive their health benefits even if they are on strike. In most strike situations, employees can’t pay their portion of the benefits because they are not earning a paycheque. In such cases, it is common for the union to pick up the slack on those payments. The ruling says that as long as payments are being made by the union, the employee must provide the benefit.

In this dispute, payments ARE ALREADY BEING MADE BY THE UNION through its members’ payroll deductions, so what the employer is really doing is violating the very article that it cites as a rationale for its action.

Teachers are still working full time and getting paid. Therefore there is no need for the union to pay the employees’ share of the benefits. According to the ruling, thehealth and welfare benefits, other than pension benefits or contributions, normally provided directly or indirectly by the employer to the employees must be continued.” (In this case, the benefits are provided “indirectly”, as the employer purchases an insurance plan from Blue Cross, and Blue Cross pays teachers’ medical costs.)

This latest strategy by government is a nasty little stunt. It is intended to scare and provoke the union into further job action. Meanwhile the government has shown no serious commitment to a negotiated settlement, as it still clings to the ridiculous idea of a 10 year contract.

It is all part of the government’s “bad faith bargaining” through the BC Public School Employer’s Association (BCPSEA). The Supreme Court of BC has already ruled that the government’s tactic of goading the teachers into a full blown strike is illegal. The government has purposely stalled and strained relations with teachers by firing the board of BCPSEA just when talks were looking positive, and by appealing the Supreme Court ruling.

The Labour Relations Act demonstrates the correct spirit of government – which is to protect people from harm in an unbalanced power situation. The current government’s violation of this act shows blatantly, its cynical contempt for its own citizens.