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LETTER: What has forced teachers to take job action?

Dear editor,

After 30 bargaining sessions at the provincial table we have had no offers of pay increases, benefit improvements or the return of the class size and composition language that the BC Supreme Court recently ruled was illegally stripped from our contracts.

The court found that then-Minister of Education Christy Clark proudly led legislation based on information that the court found was “not accurate” and “so vague and unsubstantiated that it was impossible to challenge it meaningfully”. The judge stated: “It would be unfair to give it any weight for the truth of its contents.”

The government is ignoring the court ruling and stating that it has no meaning other than having to “consult” with us before introducing new “corrective” legislation implementing its education policy objectives.

Alberta teachers are receiving a 4.4% salary increase this month which will result in their being paid up to $21,000 more per year than us. Ontario teachers will be receiving a 3% increase. The Saskatchewan government has publicly expressed that it “values” its teachers and has agreed to a mediated settlement process that will result in a substantial increase in salaries based on a Western-Canada average. The mediator has recommended 8.84% over 3 years for teachers at the top of the salary scale and 10.51% for teachers at the bottom.

BC teachers rank 8th in pay in Canada and we have not had any substantial benefit improvements in 20 years.  Our government continues to offer us “net zero”.

This is the same government that gave the premier of this province a raise of over 50% just before it brought in its “net-zero” mandate for all other public service sector employee groups. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has calculated that the BC Premier’s salary has risen from $121,100 in 2007 to $193,532 in 2010.

Since 2001, there has been a 22% reduction in K-12 public education funding.

The Minister of Education has threatened to legislate us back to work even though we have not taken any job action to date and has stated we would be waiting a long time if we believe we are going to receive anything but a “net zero” settlement. 

What does this all mean?

The government’s proposals add up to a full-frontal attack on teachers as workers and professionals. They constitute a massive and wholesale assault on our collective agreements, and language that has taken decades to achieve. They seek to eliminate all processes that ensure transparency and fairness in hiring and other HR practices.

Facing this concerted campaign by the government and the employer to turn back the clock on teachers’ rights and reverse hard-won provisions protecting due process, we have no choice but to take a stand for ourselves, our students, and our profession.

We need to stop the Liberal government’s “draconian” actions (as the Supreme Court of Canada called it) of dishonouring and stripping collective agreements and ruling by “fiat”.

Please consider the following:  

1.      Although our job actions can affect our students, we must remember that similar actions in the past are what have created the positive learning conditions students enjoy today. Those conditions were achieved through bargaining, not through the benevolence of government.

2.      The purpose of job action is to support negotiations to achieve our bargaining goals.

3.      We want to send a strong message to government that we expect them to correct the current, BC Secretary-Treasurer Association acknowledged,  300 million dollar/year structural funding shortfall in K-12 public education.

4.      We will not accept any more contract-stripping and we intend to work towards improvements that will benefit teachers’ working and students’ learning conditions.

5.      Our job action will show government that we are serious about our objectives, even as we are putting them forward at our bargaining tables.

6.      We will not stop advocating for public education because of our job action.

7.      BCTF President, Susan Lambert, has publicly stated that: “We will begin [the school year] by focusing on the central and joyful work of our profession—teaching our students.”

What will Phase 1 job action look like?

The initial period of job action (Phase 1) is a “teach only” campaign aimed at bringing the joy of teaching back into our lives and bringing increased pressure to bear on administration, the employer, and the government.

Teachers will be teaching, evaluating students, taking attendance, participating in voluntary extra-curricular activities of their choice, communicating with students and parents on student progress, participating in field trips during the instructional day, completing IEPs,

providing supervision when there are no administrators available, attending class size and composition consultation meetings, attending school-based health and safety meetings, etc.

Students and parents will likely notice an increase in the amount of time we will be able to spend with them, since we will not be tied up in “administrivia,” bureaucratic tasks, and unnecessary meetings.

We appreciate all of the supportive comments we have received to date from those that care about the state of public education funding in this province and are encouraging us to continue with our efforts to reduce class sizes and to obtain increased levels of support for our special needs students!  

Respectfully submitted,

Andrew M. Davidoff, President

Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union

Email: lp20@bctf.ca