More than 50 Creston Valley teachers took to downtown sidewalks on Monday afternoon to express their displeasure at a threat to legislate a new contract, joining other BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) members in a provincewide “day of action.”
“Today teachers are saying that we should be negotiating — don’t legislate us back,” Rebecca Blair said.
The president of the Creston Valley Teachers’ Association said that will only perpetuate what B.C. Education Minister George Abbott described on CBC Radio on Monday as “a 50-year bad marriage.”
Abbott said that he would not be introducing legislation today but that it could be ready for Tuesday or Wednesday.
“On Friday, BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’ Association) said they are willing to try mediation and we are willing to take that route,” Blair said.
In a letter to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) of British Columbia dated Feb. 25, BCPSEA said, “It is important to stress the position of the BCPSEA board of directors and bargaining team that the goal in this round of bargaining, as in others, is a negotiated collective agreement.”
Blair said she fears that BCPSEA and the provincial government do not share the same goal and that the government is preparing legislation that will strip teachers of benefits they negotiated in previous contracts.
“That would take away what employees and the employer agreed to in the past,” she said. “Any ‘strips’ would be at the expense of what was agreed to, often in the local bargaining process.”
The BCPSEA letter to the LRB, signed by legal counsel, didn’t express much optimism that a mediated agreement could be reached, though. The organization remains adamant that no more money is forthcoming from the province.
“It is BCPSEA’s belief that in order to reach an agreement with the BCTF that the parties need, at a minimum, to accept the net zero mandate and negotiate within that mandate as other public sector unions and employees have done already, including K-12 support staff unions.
“Given the circumstances, the public commentary by the BCTF, and the bargaining results to date, it would appear likely that the involvement of a third party, on its own, would yield limited results. However, BCPSEA recognizes that the LRB has many years of experience with a variety of bargaining disputes and the appointment of mediators under section 74 of the code. BCPSEA is prepared to work with the LRB if it is believed that the circumstances lend themselves to the application and operation of this section of the code.”
Education in the Creston Valley has been relatively unaffected by teachers’ actions to push for a collective agreement, which has included the withdrawal of report card writing by teachers.
“The local public has been very supportive,” she said. “Parents say we are doing a good job this year. We have maintained communication with our students’ parents.”
Legislation, she said, “is taking a sledgehammer to solve a problem that can be resolved at a table.”
Meanwhile, she added, the dispute is eroding teachers’ relationships with school board trustees, who in the past have tried to stay out of disputes between teachers and the province.
“I want to emphasize that the main concern of teachers is not salary — it is the kids,” Blair said. “The government promised to address the class size issue in 2005. Stripping our contract would take that away.”