Teachers in parts of B.C. wore black on Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of legislation that their union insists “stripped” their “right” to control staffing levels in public schools.
This crucial management tool was abruptly taken back in 2002 by the B.C. Liberal government’s huge majority. Too abruptly, according to a B.C. Supreme Court judge last year.
The court decision stemmed from a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that led to $80 million in compensation for contract-breaking in the B.C. health care support sector at around the same time.
In the B.C. Teachers’ Federation case, the judge gave the provincial government a year to consult and come up with a replacement to the offending legislation, which will then cease to be in effect. That year is running out, with no more progress being made than the talks to replace the BCTF’s expired union contract.
The pattern of all this is drearily familiar. The B.C. government has already tabled legislation to wrest control of teacher discipline away from the union, after an outside expert found that a convicted drug dealer and a sex offender had managed to get their teaching credentials restored.
After the legislature resumes sitting, conflict-weary parents can expect to hear of new legislation to address the class size and special needs support issue. And there will likely also be an imposed contract, with the two-year “net zero” wage mandate that has already been accepted by most other government unions.
After months of fruitless meetings, political posturing and work-to-rule action, the BCTF finally tabled a revised contract offer last week, typically by staging a news conference in Vancouver before sharing the offer with the government’s bargaining agent.
It called for wage increases of three, six and six per cent, plus benefit improvements that tinkered with the breathtakingly extravagant demands the union tabled last year.
The BCTF estimated the package would cost a mere $300 million in the first year. “Show your work,” my math teachers used to tell me, but the BCTF didn’t show its calculations. Union officials dismissed the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association’s $2 billion cost estimate of the their initial demands as “enormously inflated,” but didn’t show how or by how much.
BCPSEA crunched what numbers the union gave them in the new proposal, and came up with a first-year cost of nearly $500 million. The BCTF, again to the media rather than at the bargaining table, allowed that its total package would cost $565 million. Again, no calculations were produced.
BCPSEA estimates the union’s proposal would cost an additional $880 million over three years. And that’s not counting the union’s demand for $300 million a year to reduce class sizes and increase special needs support staff.
Teachers are still being compensated under the final terms of a contract that provided 16 per cent in wage increases over five years, in the midst of a harsh recession. And here’s a fun math fact. With percentage wage increases, three plus six plus six doesn’t equal 15. It’s closer to 16, because later raises are calculated on a larger base.
So on wages alone, the BCTF wants the same in three years that it just got in five, at a time when private sector unions take layoffs and wage cuts, and the province is billions in the red.
The president of the Langley Teachers’ Association went on CKNW radio and succinctly summed up the BCTF’s position.
Raise income taxes across the board. Gordon Campbell cut everyone’s taxes by 25 per cent in 2001, and cut education to pay for it.
They’re still fighting the 2005 election.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com