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Back to school: Unions bullish on settling issues with school district
The Kamloops-Thompson school district and its teachers have had their eye on Tuesday, Sept. 3, the first day of classes — but they also have Sept. 9 highlighted on their calendars.
That’s the first of nine days set aside in B.C. Supreme Court to hear a challenge by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) of government legislation affecting class sizes and support for students with special needs, among other education issues.
It’s been a long time coming and, said John Churchley, assistant superintendent for human resources with the school district, it will have a direct impact on bargaining with the BCTF.
In April 2011, after a decade-long battle through the court system triggered by the government’s legislation, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the changes violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ruling the legislation unconstitutional.
The government was given one year to work it out with the teachers and, when that didn’t happen, the BCTF headed back to court.
The final date for the hearing is Oct. 3 and the union is hopeful a ruling comes before winter so it can get back to the bargaining table.
When it does, there are still plenty of hurdles. In late June, the BCTF voted 96 per cent against what it calls government interference in the negotiation process.
After talks began in February, some progress was made but, in mid-June, the provincial government announced it was removing the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association as its bargaining agent and replacing it with one negotiator, freelance mediator Peter Cameron.
He will be joined at the table by representatives of the B.C. School Trustees’ Association.
One hot topic to yet be tackled is the province’s offer to restore teachers’ right to strike — something the Liberals removed when they became government in 2001 — if the BCTF agrees to a 10-year deal.
The offer by Education Minister Peter Fassbender includes indexed compensation and the right to again negotiation class sizes.
Churchley said bargaining talks with the Kamloops Thompson Teachers’ Association (KTTA) on local issues “had some success,” but the provincial level of bargaining is key — and the court ruling will set the tone as bargaining moves forward.
KTTA president Jason Karpuk said his local has a good working relationship with the school district that is respectful and which he feels will reach resolution on local issues.
Teachers and the school district are “doing the best we can with the resources we have,” Karpuk said.
He is hopeful there will be improvements in teaching special-needs students, stating special education is “becoming unmanageable.”
The other side of the labour coin involves the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents the support-staff and educational-assistant side of teaching.
And, although provincially there is talk about possible strike action, John Hall, president of Local 3500, which represents Kamloops workers, said he’s positive about achieving labour peace.
CUPE and the school district return to the table on Sept. 17 and, while other CUPE locals have taken a strike vote, Hall’s hasn’t and likely won’t as long as meetings remain positive with SD73.
For a variety of reasons, Hall said, his local is a bit behind others in talks with the employer.
He’s pleased school district superintendent Terry Sullivan has said he’s optimistic the tone will continue to get them to an agreement.
“Any time you’re talking, it’s better than not talking,” Hall said. “We’ll do what we have to do if we have to do it, but I don’t want to be negative.
“We’re all in this together.”
The BCTF’s contract with the province expired on June 30.