Editorial — School support workers show bargaining can work

The B.C Teachers Federation needs to bargain constructively, as the support staff unions have.

While all the sound and fury over education bargaining in the past four months has come from the B.C.Teachers Federation and BC Public School Employers’ Association, some real and substantive bargaining has been taking place.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve the teachers.

The BCPSEA has quietly concluded an agreement in principle with representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and other unions representing support staff in the K-12 public education system. The agreement was announced on Thursday.

The agreement is not a final contract, but rather an overarching framework which will apply if school districts can come to an agreement with their local unions by Feb. 29.

The agreement in principle calls for no wage increases from 2010 to 2012, but does have a wage reopener clause, should provincial guidelines calling for a “net zero” result from contracts change. It does include some additional money, notably $7.5 million annually for preparation time for educational assistants, and $550,000 for a support staff education and adjustment commitee.

CUPE has not been beating the political drums against the provincial government over education funding, as has the BCTF. Rather, it has worked diligently with the employers’ representative to come up with a realistic contract that calls for no concessions. At the same time, it  recognizes that the taxpayers’ ability to pay more has all but run out.

Nor has it brought in moves designed to put pressure on parents, administrators and school districts, such as refusing to do report cards or formally meet with parents to discuss student progress, as the BCTF has.

The BCTF has legitimate issues about class size and composition, and how to resolve a lawsuit it won over past changes to its contract. It is unfortunate that BCTF negotiators have spent so much time posturing in public and relatively little time actually negotiating. It is also unfortunate that the teachers’ union has not modified its demand for hundreds of millions in extra education funding.

The BCTF needs to bargain constructively, as the support staff unions have. The education system should be functioning fully, in order to carry out its mandate of developing today’s children into tomorrow’s responsible adults.

Langley Times