A request by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) to have a mediator assigned to find a resolution in the ongoing labour dispute has run into a snag.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender agreed on June 20 to accept mediation from Vince Ready who recently helped resolve the ongoing dispute between truck drivers and Port Metro Vancouver.
“Whatever it’s going to take to get an agreement, our negotiating team and this government is prepared to do what we can,” says Fassbender.
However, it soon became clear Ready is not available, so a collective breath is being held by teachers, students, administrators and parents this week to see what happens next.
This move toward mediation follows the June 18 presentation of the BCTF’s updated package, cutting its wage demands to eight per cent over five years from their earlier offer of 13.5 per cent over three years.
However, it also asks the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) for a $5,000 signing bonus (government had offered $1,200), and added $1.35 million over five years to address classroom conditions, both past and future.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he is “disappointed” at that package, but he is “not interested” in legislating a contract.
“We are now further away from an agreement than we were [June 12].”
Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association (CCTA) president Murray Helmer says he disagrees, and thinks the current barricade to reaching an agreement is not insurmountable.
“I don’t think it is huge. We have got the premier [Christy Clark] saying teachers deserve a raise and that class size and composition needs to be addressed.”
The offers on both sides include wage increases that are now less than a percentage point apart, he explains, and negotiations could resolve the gaps in signing bonus and classroom supports offers.
Meanwhile, the deal the province made with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) leaves support staff being paid for every day they stay home because BCTF members have their picket lines set up at schools, he notes.
“That’s CUPE’s signing bonus, and right now it’s open-ended … it grows every day we are on strike.”
He explains the teachers’ union has asked for an additional $225 million a year for five years to compensate teachers for the classroom supports stripped from the contract language in 2002, that the Supreme Court has ordered be returned.
“There are potentially thousands of grievances on class size and composition over the last 12 years. The BCTF has [stated] rather than pursuing all of those, we agree to not process them and instead have a package of money that would then go toward all the things we have tried to negotiate improvements in and [have been unsuccessful].”
Noting a separate one-time $225 million the BCTF has asked for is to cover off future classroom supports over the next four-to-five years, Helmer says this is the time the union expects it to take for the province to agree on language to restore them.
He adds a clause in public employee union contracts allows others to renegotiate with government if another union gets a better deal.
“We’re negotiating for a lot of employees outside of our bargaining unit just by virtue of the ‘me-too’ clause.”
However, Fassbender says he “cannot split the difference” because BCPSEA has already offered the “very limit” of what the province can afford, while union demands are farther away from the “affordability zone” for public sector settlements.
Now on the cusp of the end of the school year, reaching an agreement before students and teachers break for the summer appears to be increasingly difficult.