Teacher bargaining begins in just three short days! BCPSEA and the BCTF will meet for a first time on March 1st. One of the first items the BCTF will be bringing to the table is a change to the "split of issues" that define what is bargained provincially and what is bargained locally. Teachers hope to bargain more items at the local level.
Here are five reasons why I think school Trustees should support this change:
1. Improved relationships
The collective agreement is the heart of the relationship between teachers and school Boards. When a third party (BCPSEA/BCTF) does the bargaining, it creates many relationship problems. There is not always mutual understanding at a local level of what the language in the agreement means. There is not always shared interest reflected in the agreements. There is no personal history of individuals talking about issues and working toward common resolutions because neither the local teacher union leadership nor the Trustees nor the senior Administration were involved in the negotiations.
When local teacher unions negotiate with local Boards they build relationships and they develop trust. This cannot happen when everything is done at the provincial level and the local parties are not even a part of the process.
2. Cost savings from fewer disputes
The recent reports on costs of class size grievances show the level of dysfunction and wasted money spent on resolving disputes through legal means. If more leeway is provided for local parties to negotiate local solutions, much less money will be directed towards lawyers and arbitrators and that money can instead find its way into the classroom. For instance, while $1 million has been spent by BCPSEA defending over size classes, the Maple Ridge district has set aside money for a joint union/management fund to address class size concerns. This is a far better way to resolve issues.
The more opportunity for local bargaining, the more there is a shared understanding and acceptance of the rules that both the union and the local school Board must follow. Where this shared understanding exists, fewer disputes take place.
In Victoria, we were able to negotiate a new agreement on professional development days. This has helped clearly define the parameters around planning the days and the rights of teachers to self-directed professional development. The agreement has been instrumental in eliminating disputes around this issue.
3. Repair processes that no longer work
Much of the language in current collective agreements was written in the late eighties or early nineties. In many cases, it just doesn't fit any longer. Since that time, we've moved to semester systems, to middle schools, to different curriculum. We've seen the introduction of new human rights legislation, new health and safety rules, and changes to the employment standards. We need the opportunity to revisit parts of agreements that are "stale" or outdated due to these changes. The inability to bargain locally has impaired that process.
4. Allocate resources in ways that support the community
Different communities have different needs. In the north, it may be very important to provide travel costs for professional development activities that typically take place in the lower mainland. This probably isn't an issue in Vancouver.
Variations in communities mean the needs of schools and teachers also vary. These can only be accommodated if local teacher associations can bargain with their local boards and identify shared interests.
5. Improve teacher morale
Teacher morale from stress and workload is very low. One in two teachers leave the profession in the first five years. As the major group of salaried workers in schools, much of the pressure to save money from budget cuts has translated into major workload issues for teachers. A recent BCTF worklife study shows that the average teacher, including part-time teachers, work 49 hours per week, with ten percent working 60 hours per week. This might be sustainable for the first few years of a career, but becomes very difficult to sustain over the long term.
Workload hits teachers in two ways. The first is class size and composition. With larger classes and more students needing individual programs, teachers are spending huge amounts of time on extra preparations and evaluation. A Victoria teacher told our Board this fall she is delivering 18 different curricula to meet the diverse needs of the students in her elementary class.
The second is downloading of non-teaching duties onto teachers. This is everything from sorting recycling to data entry (BCeSIS). Because support staff are all hourly employees, more and more duties that used to be support staff work are ending up in the hands of teachers.
Teachers need to be able to negotiate with their local board to place limits on workload. If they don't, we are going to lose many more from the profession. And we will not have the best and brightest in our schools if the job becomes so stressful and tiring that it is unmanageable.