One of the debates that frequents the "comments" section on education blogs is "Whose fault is it?" that teacher bargaining has failed so miserably over the past decade. The recent judgement on Bills 27 and 28, which imposed a settlement during the 2001/2002 round of bargaining, is instructive in answering this question.
Excerpts from The Honerable Madam Justice S. Griffin, in her Reasons for Judgement on the BCTF Class size court case:
The elementary and high school teachers of British Columbia challenge provincial legislation as unconstitutional on the basis that it deprives them of collective bargaining rights, thereby infringing their freedom to associate guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For the reasons that follow, I have found that most, but not all, of the challenged legislation is unconstitutional as violating the s. 2 (d) freedom to associate and to engage in collective bargaining.
In summary, the teachers' position is that the provincial government by its legislation unilaterally voided existing terms in their collective agreement, and prohibited future collective bargaining, on the subjects of restrictions on class sizes, class composition (number of special needs children integrated in the class), ratios of non-enrolling teachers to students (teachers not assigned to classrooms, such as librarians, counselors, and special education teachers), and workload.
The government's position is that these subjects are more importantly matters of educational policy decisions, and ought not to be the subject of collective bargaining.
The results of the Korbin commission do not support the suggestion that teachers had made unduly rigid demands with respect to class size or composition. The Korbin Report observed that mediation and facilitation processes available under existing labour laws had been working well to resolve disputes in the first period of collective bargaining.
(Note: The Korbin Report was written in the mid-90's and she was commenting on a time when teachers bargained locally with school boards, a bargaining model that the BCTF supports.)
BCPSEA called upon school administrators to document problems with these limits. An association of school principals and vice-principals (BCPVPA) commissioned a survey of school administrators in October 1998.
(Note: this was the Bognar survey)
The Bognar suvery was not designed to obtain neutral and objective information and so it cannot be relied upon as a fair representative sample.
A representative of BCPSEA, Mr. Rick Davis, also set about to informally gather information from school administrators, designed to illustrate problems with class size and composition limits.
(Note: Mr. Davis is now a "Superintendent of Achievement" in the Ministry of Education)
However, when Mr. Davis was pressed on this affidavit evidence in cross-examination, it became clear that it was not accurate.
But is is also clear from the government's own evidence that a key reason that school administrators and the government did not like to have class size and composition limits included in collective agreements was the fact that these limits increased costs to school districts.
On January 22, 2002, the BCTF presented a "Framework for Settlement". BCPSEA rejected this proposal.
No collective agreement was reached before the government tabled bill 27 and bill 28 in the legislature on January 25, 2002.
While I do not reject the government proposition that class size is a matter of educational policy, it is also a matter that affects the working conditions of teachers.
The legislation deleted hundreds of terms of the collective agreement. Many of these terms dealt with subject matters that the parties had been actively negotiating for several months, with the BCTF providing several proposals dealing with these terms at he bargaining table. All of this negotiating exercise and effort was for naught.
A teacher's work is done both inside and outside of the class room. Teachers must prepare lessons and learning materials, assess individual student progress, arrange special assistance for students in need, perform administrative tasks and marking, and meet outside of classroom hours with students and parents to discuss learning outcomes and disciplinary issues. Increases in class sizes not only impact the management of the classroom, they also result in a greater workload. These effects are compounded the greater the number of special needs students integrated into the classroom, and the fewer the supports from non-enrolling teachers (specialist assistants and other support staff).
Taking away the right to bargain these matters seriously eroded the bargaining strength of teachers and increased the bargaining strength of the employer.
By passing this legislation without so much as consulting with BCTF, the government did not preserve the essential underpinning of collective bargaining, namely, good faith negotiation and consultation.