Arbitrator says go back to negotiating: COTA

A ruling from the arbitrator dealing with teacher contract talks says it’s time to get back to the table and work, the local union rep says.

Late Sunday, arbitrator Marguerite Jackson ruled it is not possible for one party to unilaterally decide what will be negotiated at the local level rather than the provincial.

“To me, it says get back to the table and work it out,” said Alice Rees, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association.

Bargaining issues are divided between local tables at which local school districts negotiate directly with pockets of the union, like COTA, and the larger provincial negotiations, which take place between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, on the union side, and B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, representing the government.

The arbitrator was asked to further define where cost items should fall, as issues relating to money are typically dealt with provincially, and provided the following test of whether something belongs at the provincial table. The two sides are to ask themselves:

• Does it relate to salaries?

• Does it affect the cost of the collective agreement?

If both can be answered yes, it is said to be a provincial matter, though Rees said she ultimately believes the ruling is really just splitting hairs.

“It’s all part of a bit of silly dickering…to keep the public focused on stuff that doesn’t matter,” she said.

“It was BCPSEA that took this forward. If government is truly concerned about children, they would go back to the table and work it out.”

Rees said teachers are most concerned about class size and composition.

“We can’t meet all the needs with $275 million missing from our budget,” she said.

The figure is the cumulative amount the BCTF contends has been stripped from the budget since the teachers’ right to negotiate class size and composition was removed from the contract when now Premier Christy Clark was education minister.

Last spring the move was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

While schools will reopen here next week, at this point the teachers remain committed to job action. A full-scale strike, however, has not been proposed.


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