Lets review the way the government negotiates with teachers.
Before the provincial election of 2013, negotiations with the teachers were going well. There was a positive bargaining relationship at the table. Christy Clark campaigned on a promise of labour peace with the BCTF, suggesting a 10 year contract.
Then, in what really seemed like a miracle, she got elected. Suddenly she turned on the BCTF like the evil queen realizing Snow White is still alive. The bargaining agent that had previously worked a deal with the teachers was fired.
After months of fruitless talks the BCTF started a mild job action, one that did not affect students in any way. The only thing they would not do is meet with administrators or supervise the playground at recess. They still ran extracurricular events and field trips. They still met with parents, answered their emails, did all their prep and marking, ran clubs etc.
The government decided to turn up the heat and tried to cut health benefits to the teachers.
Then, without any explanation of why, they abandoned this tack. I suspect that their lawyers advised them that they would not be able to cut health benefits. Whose idea this was, I don’t know, but it was as mean-spirited as it was stupid. I’ve never heard of an employer pulling a stunt like that.
They needed to find another way to punish teachers, so they decided to “lock out” teachers, effectively turning them into babysitters as they were unable to do any of the things teachers need to do to run programs and evaluate properly, while docking their pay 10%.
Teachers would now no longer be able to participate in Grad ceremonies that they had fundraised for, nor would they be able to run field trips they had planned.
Then, not having anticipated the consequences of this lockout, they reached into their pockets where they keep the Labour Relations Board (LRB), and found a way to make letter grades for grade 12s essential, even though the two biggest universities in the province, UBC and SFU do not need final marks (their acceptance letters had already been sent out).
Next, they had the LRB deem provincial exams to be essential.
Then they found that grading said exams would be too onerous a task, so they took those “essential exams” and waived the essay sections of the Social Studies and English exams.
Then they deemed Grade 10 and 11 letter grades to be essential and gave teachers a day to try to craft some kind of mark for them, even after the lockout denied struggling students any opportunity to improve their marks, and denied teachers the ability to mark any significant work.
Teachers have done what unions do, withdrawing services in a strike, but far from trying for labour peace, the government has done everything it could to kill any good will that teachers might ever have, and have completely disrupted the lives of BC’s students.
And through all this, they want to deny the teachers what other unions have been given. (Their “pattern of settlement” neglects to mention that the teachers are on their third year of 0% increase, unlike other unions.).
But what’s worse, is they have tried to convince the public that the teachers don’t know what they’re talking about when they say they need smaller classes. Education Minister Fassbender, who has never been in a classroom, cites some nebulous research that focuses only on outcomes, and that has been roundly refuted in most modern research, while denying what is said by people who work in classrooms every day. The arrogance!
Teachers are doing a fine job maintaining a system that is collapsing from lack of funding. We’re like sailors running around trying to patch holes and bail water after our ship has been hit. So far we’ve kept it afloat, but it’s taking on water badly, and it’s not moving forward.
I don’t know how this labour dispute ends. I’m going to continue to fight until the government is either tossed out or the whole the system collapses. I don’t care any more. The government wants to get something for nothing out of education, using a failed U.S. model. They want to allow their corporate cronies to enjoy the lowest tax rate in Canada, while they leave the good people of the province with less and less.
The message is clear from this government. They have no respect for the public school system or the teachers who run it. There’s a difference between hard bargaining and humiliation. No other industry would do this to the union. No other industry has the endless supply of revenue that a government has. And there are consequences for other industries having employees who are bitter and resentful.
But this is our government. They will insult and offend a sector of 40,000 people. They don’t give a tinker’s damn about labour rights or labour peace, so long as they get to have fancy lunches with their corporate sponsors.
The Appeal Court will uphold the two ignored BC Supreme Court’s decisions against the government for ripping up teachers contracts, as will (eventually) the Supreme Court of Canada. But this government will continue to defy the law, challenging the electorate to stop them. Ethics-be damned. They’ll do it if they can get away with it. What can the courts do, really?
A government that doesn’t care about its people.