Proposal to resolve teacher bargaining

Teachers dispute could have been resolved without the heavy boot

Both the provincial government and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) are responsible for the dysfunctional state of collective bargaining in the K-12 system.

This isn’t my assessment alone. It’s also the assessment of Commissioner Don Wright, who investigated this issue in 2004, and of mediator Vince Ready in 2007.

The dysfunctional relationship between the B.C. government (including when the NDP was in power) and the BCTF has led to one collective agreement being legislated since 1994.

That single “successful” five-year collective agreement in 2006 occurred after an illegal strike by the teachers, a court fine against the BCTF for contempt, and the appointment of Ready as a facilitator.

However, a number of long-standing issues still remained unresolved, especially the issues of class size and composition, and BCTF’s desire to return to district bargaining rather than the provincial bargaining structure the NDP imposed in 1994. These issues are key in this round of negotiations.

The problem with the current structure is that if the government doesn’t like what the BCTF proposes, or if it wants to reduce education spending, it can simply push the BCTF up against the wall forcing a strike and then use it as an excuse to legislate a collective agreement in the name of “protecting B.C.’s school children.”

Since it was brought into existence by the NDP and the teachers were stripped of their right to bargain at the district level, the BC Public School Employers’ Association is caught in the middle, leaving me, and a great many others, to wonder why the BCPSE exists at all.  If we continue with the current model of bargaining, the BCPSE should simply be disbanded.

However, we desperately need a different system.

In my response to Bill 22, I proposed Wright’s 2004 recommendations be implemented. This would put a new structure to the collective bargaining process leading to binding arbitration if negotiations are not successful.

I believe this would add more honesty to the process and, as Wright suggested, create a “mature” collective bargaining process for the K-12 system.

I also proposed $280 million in new money for the education system from a restoration of the corporate industrial school tax that Gordon Campbell cut in 2008. This tax was cut as part of Campbell’s “stimulus package” and it’s now rationalized as part the “revenue neutral” carbon tax.

I don’t believe we got one job out of this tax cut and the more than $70 million/year of forgone revenue as a result of this cut would be better spent in our school system.

I’ve also, once again, called on the government to stop charging our schools for bogus carbon offsets. It is immoral and unconscionable to continue to take more money from school operating funds for the bogus claim of carbon neutral government.

On top of the carbon tax districts pay for fuel and heating, the offset payments will rob another $13 million from classrooms over the next three years, so the government’s Pacific Carbon Trust can fund private sector projects.

The government should also return any accrued savings from the teacher’s strike to the school system. At $11 million/day this could be as much as $55 million.

Visit www.bobsimpsonmla.ca/bill22 for the full version of my proposal.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.