The truth about the teachers dispute in BC: The emperor is naked. It’s just that people prefer not to notice.

I don’t go looking for trouble in my personal conversations at social gatherings. I really don’t, but trouble follows me. You see, I’m a teacher, and as soon as that little fact enters the conversation, people start asking me questions about the current teacher job action. I try to appear balanced, and non-confrontational, but inevitably it takes less than a minute for the conversationalist to weigh in with his or her opinion on what should be done to solve the current labour impasse.

And almost always I’m confronted with opinions (I can usually cite the articles that gave rise to these opinions) that are formulated out of untruths and half truths told by government officials, and repeated by editorial writers in the main stream press. Most of the people I talk to are intelligent, news-literate people. They read the mainstream papers and they have life experience and education that allow them to be important contributors to our economy and our democracy. So it is no fault of theirs that they are so very much in the dark as to what is going on in BC’s education system. For this I blame the corporate-owned press itself.

However, I do suspect that many of them prefer to believe that the teachers are at fault in this dispute. Most of the people I know in my personal life work in a business world –a world that has been told repeatedly that socially funded programs are a net burden to society. So they may be loathe to hear the truth and quick to jump on mischaracterizations of the truth. But truth is truth, and an ethical person, once confronted with the truth, has to finally accept it.

The situation is like the one in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The villagers in the tale believe that their emperor is the best dressed man in the world. When a deceitful tailor tricks the emperor into going naked by convincing him that his cloths are so fine as to be invisible, no one says anything, preferring to live under the delusion that the emperor is well-dressed. The spell is broken when an innocent boy who is too young to be swayed by the popular delusion of a well-dressed emperor, points out the ugly truth that the emperor is naked.

What follows is a list of deluded suggestions about the teacher labour dispute – in which the emperor is most definitely naked.

Misconception #1. The BCTF and government are far apart on wages and benefits.

Actually, this is not true. The government has come off its 10 year contract idea. The BCTF has come down from its 14.5% wage demand, and now the parties are within a year an a percentage point of each other.

Misconception #2.  The teachers and government need to put aside class size and composition language until the appeal court decision, and complete negotiations on wages and benefits. 

Not a bad idea, but this has been tried. The BCTF proposed a “placeholder” for class size and composition. The government responded with a clause that allows either party to cancel the whole contract if they don’t like the court result. The union can not benefit from this arrangement. It has no means to keep negotiating ad infinitum. If it loses the support of the court, no new negotiation will help the union. On the other hand, if the government can just cancel out a court ruling, it can sustain its illegal action forever against the union.

Misconception #3. The parties are too far apart for mediation to occur.

Not really. Theoretically, a mediator can look at two parties’ positions no matter how far apart they are and come up with a suggestion. The problem here is that the government has set as a precondition that some of its terms are just not open to mediation. In effect, without saying so directly, the government is refusing accept mediation, no matter how much it protests to the contrary. On the other hand, the teachers, who have asked for mediation, are willing to compromise their demands according to the recommendations of a mediator.

Misconception #4. The teachers’ demands are unrealistic.

This is, of course, a matter of opinion, but many people who hold this opinion are unaware of some facts:

Fact 1: According to Stats Canada data from 2011 (funding has gotten worse since then) BC has the second lowest-funded education system in Canada. At that time, it’s average funding was $1000 per student per year below the national average.

Fact 2: BC’s teacher to student ratio is lower than any other province in Canada.

Fact 3: BC teachers’ wages and benefits are the lowest in Canada and if all of their demands were met, they’d still be far below the national average.

Fact 4: The government has been caught trying to incite public disdain for teachers and then using this disdain as political capital to help them win an election. This has been deemed “bad faith”in the provincial Supreme Court, and it is completely unethical as well as illegal. This fact has been confirmed by the very board chair of the employers’ association who was involved in those bad faith negotiations.

And this fact is what baffles me most. This calumny is met by the press and the public with a sort of yawn. Gone are the days when the public howled its outrage at politicians who stepped afoul of ethics. And this is but one in many ethical breaches, including sweetheart deals, golden handshakes, and failed conflict-of-interest disclosures.

Meanwhile, it is simply a cold numerical fact that BC’s education system is the worst maintained in Canada. So far the teachers have done a good job subsidizing the system with more and more hours of work and their own money, but cracks are starting to appear in student learning results.

Misconception #5. The government is negotiating within its rights just like any business.

The government is not at all negotiating in good faith. As if the opt-out clause isn’t enough, it tried to bully the union into an agreement by threatening to make the union pay teacher health benefits (which is unquestionably illegal). In another instance, when the union came way down in its salary demands, it held off responding for 48 hours, then came back with a lowered salary offer. As a friend of mine from the business world said, “That’s not cricket.”

I don’t know what more can be done to convince anyone of what is really happening in teacher negotiations. Districts all over the province are complaining of budget shortfalls, and still there seems to be a reluctance from the press to investigate. They seem content to offer soap boxes to politicians from which they distort the facts. Editorial writers in mainstream papers don’t seem to care (or know?) that the government misrepresents and mischaracterizes negotiations. The best they can seem to come up with is that both parties need to sit down and negotiate.



12 thoughts on “The truth about the teachers dispute in BC: The emperor is naked. It’s just that people prefer not to notice.

  1. The issue is less to do with wages, benefits, class comp, etc than the fact that there are deeper issues stemming from this.

    1) There will never be public support for the BCTF until they find a way to get rid of bad teachers. Yes most teachers are great and whatnot but any job that has no job performance reviews will never get the support as the majority of people who work out there get fired if they are poor at their jobs. Face it, all the students and parents know exactly who these teachers are at every school and cringe when they get into their classes.

    While teachers are great at what they do, I will never support the BCTF. Ever wonder why the BCTF has the highest union dues yet the strike fund ran out so quickly? Do you really think Iker or the rest if the BCTF exec is feeling the pinch of going 20 weeks without pay?

    2) Supply and demand. There is a huge surplus of teachers so why would anyone increase the pay or benefits when there are so many new teachers wanting a job? Not to say teachers dont deserve an increase but with a high supply and lower demand, the value decreases.

    I could be wrong but to my knowledge, NWT has one of the highest paying salaries for teachers. Ever wonder why? Who would ever want to live in the NWT?

    As much as I’ve had great experiences with teachers over the years, sorry but you teachers need to come back down to earth on your wage and benefits demands.

  2. I find some hope in the fact that the last few days, CKNW has been reporting more information like what you present here. Another misconception that was debunked today, as mentioned by Brian Topping in the first comment above, is that in addition to unlimited massage there are other “outrageous” benefits being demanded by BCTF, such as fertility treatments. This morning, I heard reported that the details of what’s included in a benefit package are being brought up to sway public opinion away from the teachers, when in fact the real issue is how much the total benefit package will cost. Once they have a number, the BCTF can choose whatever specific coverages it wants within the funding limit.

    What worries me most is how apathetic the public has become to allow our government to get away with this illegal and unethical behaviour. This is our government! If we don’t expect or demand that IT holds up the law, what will become of this province? The public and media focus on the teachers making “unrealistic” demands, yet what is realistic about breaking the law? It’s entirely unconscionable.

  3. As a teacher, I would also like people to consider the facts about contract “settlements” since 1998, so here are the % changes to present:
    0, 0, 2, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5, 0, 0, 0, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5, 2.0, 0, 0, 0.
    When inflation is factored in, I have LOST nearly $140 of purchasing power per $1000 of salary.
    The government keeps referring to $5000 of increased benefits, but they consider teaching assistants in classrooms and a preparation block for marking, phoning parents, etc., a benefit rather than an improvement to working conditions. They refer to $3000 to $5000 in massage, but any increases to that benefit are for medically necessary (i.e.; doctor-ordered) treatments. The gov’t tries to make negotiation items appear to be universal and inflexible demands in order to inflame public sentiment against teachers. They are lying so as to reinforce their stance, but slowly people are waking up to the outrageousness of their behaviour.
    A failure of this government to adequately fund both education and health care is coming home to roost, and the increasingly defensive posture of the neo-liberals is becoming laughable. But I’m not amused……

  4. Thank you for this article. I think the main issue with #4 is that British Columbians pay a lot of tax, and because a teacher’s salary comes from the government, people cant accept the demands because that would mean the taxpayers must fish more money out of their pockets to the government. I am well aware that teaches pay taxes as well, but of course, majority of taxpayers are not teachers and Vancouver is an expensive place to live in, if you know what I mean.

    1. Well see, the thing is if we addressed the fact that BC has some of the Lowest income tax rates on high income individuals, and by far one of the lowest corporate tax rates amongst the provinces of the country, there’d be a large chunk of money to use on education (And health care. And infrastructure. And addressing the worst child poverty rates in the country)

      We could even increase that fund not solely by rectifying those lack of taxes that the average worker would not at all be affected by, but by also ending the huge chunks earmarked for corporate welfare to big industry (and especially Christy’s pet project of her LNG buddies). And if the government didn’t waste money on frivolities like an over engineered stadium roof and Olympic parties for all their rich friends.

    2. probably the majority of tax payers also have children and it astounds me how they have been brain washed by corporate sponsored governments who are continually lowering business tax and increasing personal income tax…teachers spend more time looking after our kids then any one else…I want my kids to be well cared for enriched and educated to the best of the systems ability ………how much money do parents spend on their kids that is wasted…. lets spend it on raising well balanced productive citizens instead.

  5. Thank you for a great article. I think Fact #2 should say that BC has the highest teacher to student ratio, not the lowest. In other words, BC has the greatest number of students for each teacher compared to all the other provinces.

    1. I thought that too, but notice her wording is teacher to student (teacher:student). BC does have a low teacher to student ratio: a low number of teachers per student. We are used to seeing it expressed the other way round (student: teacher) (for example 25:1).

      1. Yes, Brigid. You’re right. I think my wording must be unusual, because quite a few people have found it confusing. What I’ve said is accurate, but the wording throws people off. Thanks for clarifying.

  6. The sad thing is, many people are short sighted and are willing to let this government run wild, for a few more dollars in their own pockets. I’ve spoken to people who still think the government is right even though I mentioned that they have been condemned by the UN and lost twice in BC Supreme Court. Honestly, if that doesn’t sway one’s decision…..I don’t know what can…

    How did BC become this place where people no longer cared about the greater community and morals and ethics, but only for their own pockets and the almighty dollar, while the province is being destroyed, sold off, from the inside out……

  7. As always, you do a great job of presenting the facts. I think the problem with getting the word out is that the government is behaving so badly in its dealings with the BCTF that it’s hard to believe what’s really happening. The BC Liberals have done the impossible: made me sorry I became a teacher.

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