B.C. teachers’ tentative agreement – Yes or No?

20140916-080804-gBy Tara Ehrcke, teacher and past president, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association

Despite what I know was a herculean effort on the part of our bargaining team, I very much hope that BC teachers will vote no to the tentative agreement. After five weeks of strike, and twelve years of legal battles, this is not the deal that will restore sanity to public education and it is not a fair deal for teachers and students. Just as teachers in Saskatchewan rejected a deal to ensure a better outcome, I hope BC teachers will consider a no vote to let our team know we have to go back to the bargaining table.

Class size, composition

The agreement provided a modified LIF fund starting at $75 million per year and increasing to $85 by the last year. It is for teachers only, which will mean a slight improvement in Districts where sizeable portions were spent on Education Assistants or senior District staff rather than teachers. However, in an average size District like Victoria (20,000 students, 1,000 teachers), this will translate into about 5-10 more teachers. That is one for every five schools. To put it in comparison, Justice Griffin’s judgement estimated the lost funding due to lost class size language at about $330 million in current dollars.

I heard so many teachers speak up about the need to ensure that we do not return to over-crowded classes when the strike ends. This agreement does very little to alleviate what is the most pressing issue.

Throwing away the court victory

The agreement provides a “reopener” in the event we win on appeal our class size language. What this means is that the language returns, but is not implemented until new language is negotiated. Without the actual implementation of the returned language, there will be very little incentive for the government to bargain it back. We would essentially be back in the very same position we are in today, with government trying to bargain it out and us trying to bargain it back in. In my opinion, even if we were legislated back to work we would be in a superior position. If we won the appeal the government would then be forced to implement the language. We are thus throwing away our historic court victory and the bargaining pressure it potentially creates.

The reopener is really only mildly less offensive than E80. In both cases, we have to bargain back what was illegally taken from our contract and the government will probably never have to restore it. In fact, the “reopener” creates the perfect opportunity for government to lock us out to try and force us to agree to something far inferior.

Throwing away the remedy for the last twelve years

The agreement provides $105 million to compensate for grievances over-sized classes for the last twelve years. Using Justice Griffin’s estimates, our loss is roughly $300 million times 12 = over $3 billion. I cannot fathom how $105 million is a fair compromise. The BCTF’s original proposal to put this money back into the system was a more fair and productive approach. This agreement means we can no longer go to the courts for a fair remedy.

Wages

The agreement is very close to government’s original offer. While I would be willing to accept this if the class size language was returned, teachers should not be taking such a significant monetary loss without the commensurate gain in working conditions. We have lost roughly 12% of our annual salary. We will not make that back in the term of the contract. With inflation now running at 2% per annum, this salary agreement is a pay cut.

Minimal improvements

There are very minimal improvements in preparation time for elementary teachers (10 minutes per week), and TTOC daily rate. The TTOC daily rate change may depend on your grid placement. It could actually be a wage loss for long term TTOCs who are above category 5 and step 7. There is also $11 million in health and dental benefits. At 40,000 members, this is $275 each. Hardly worth consideration in the context of the rest of the agreement.

What next?

There are a variety of options if we vote no. We can continue the strike. We can choose to return to work and continue bargaining. We do not, and should not, accept an agreement that doesn’t meet our needs and doesn’t meet the needs of students and public education. When Saskatchewan teachers rejected the first deal which had 5.5% wage increases over four years, the second deal had 7.3% increases over four years. They have said this still isn’t good enough.

For us, our main issue is classroom conditions. We need to say this isn’t good enough. The way to do that is to vote no.

This post first appeared on Tara’s blog, Staffroom Confidential

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One thought on “B.C. teachers’ tentative agreement – Yes or No?

  1. She is right. this is a very bad deal. The union has received close to $2 million from other unions to address the empty strike fund and should help teachers with financial issues so they can vote no.

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