Teachers state their case

What has forced teachers to take job action?

What has forced teachers to take job action? After 32 bargaining sessions at the provincial table we have 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.   After over 50 hours of negotiations with our local administration (our local trustees did not come to the table), we have a similar lack of progress.

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 three years for teachers at the top of the salary scale and 10.51% for teachers at the bottom.

B.C. 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” in the race to the bottom of Canada’s education system.  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 B.C. premier’s salary has risen from $121,100 in 2007 to $193,532 in 2010.

In fact, the government intends to ‘remodel’ the education system to favour the private, elite sector instead of promoting public education. Since 2001, there has been a 22% reduction in K-12 public education funding.  This approach just doesn’t make sense for British Columbians.

As far as being able to afford education spending, please keep in mind two things. The B.C. government can always find lots of money for projects they want to fund. Take the retractable roof on B.C. Place (original budget $300 million – real cost $600 million) and it won’t work in the rain.   Second, the Liberal government largely created this funding crisis with their regressive tax policies for both income tax and especially corporate taxes, which are now not only the lowest in North America, but also in all of the G8 countries. Along with the HST fiasco, it is quite clear that the government seems bent on cutting off its nose to spite its face. British Columbians want paved roads, clean water, full use of all floors of new hospitals, and they want a high quality education system. Cutting taxes cuts off the revenue to provide these services and hasn’t resulted in a ‘job boom’.

What does this all mean?

The Minister of Education has threatened to legislate us back to work before we started any job action and has stated we would be waiting a long time if we believe we are going to receive anything but a “net zero” settlement.

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 our students, our profession, and ourselves.

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:

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

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

We want to send a strong message to government that we expect them to correct the 300 million dollar/year structural funding shortfall in K-12 public education.

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

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

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

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. We will not be “pushing paper” that we don’t need.  We have withdrawn recess supervision.  The school district administration is capable of covering this duty although they have cancelled recess because they don’t think they can sustain the supervision.

We will focus on teaching, we will discuss progress with parents, and we will work to provide rich, engaging and wonderful educational experiences to every child that comes in the door with the limited resources available to us.

Teachers will be teaching, evaluating students, taking attendance, participating in voluntary extra-curricular activities, and providing supervision when there are no administrators available.

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 “administrative,” 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!

Bruce Cummings, President

Vernon Teachers’ Association