Thursday, June 23, 2011

BCPSEA, Gov't and Trustees: Proposing Wisconsin North?

Teachers were shocked to see the proposals put forward by BCPSEA at the bargaining table this week. On behalf of government and school Trustees, BCPSEA wants to gut teachers' collective agreements. They want almost total control over hiring, firing and placement. They want to eliminate seniority rights and due process rights. The proposals include:

* A teacher evaluation system with no rules or processes, except that they must be "aligned" with Ministry and District priorities
* The ability to fire a teacher after a single evaluation
* The ability to move a teacher to a different job or school at any time with one month's notice
* The elimination of seniority rights for teachers who wish to move positions, assignments or schools

The proposals represent a wholesale gutting of hundreds of existing provisions in agreements across BC that provide reasonable processes for teacher evaluations and fair and transparent hiring processes for teachers already hired to a District.

This is not about getting the right teacher into the right classroom for kids. Teachers do not want to be teaching in a class where they don't feel qualified or able to do their job. In fact, existing hiring provisions require that teachers are suitably qualified. Teachers apply for job postings based on interest, ability, qualifications and personal preference. This allows teachers to be in a job they will be best at and are enthusiastic about. It is fair and objective. The school Districts have already screened entry into the workforce by hiring every teacher in the first place (there is no seniority provision to become an employee of a school District - a teacher must go through a typical interview and hiring process before any seniority is accrued or applies).

In addition, existing evaluation procedures provide mechanisms for ensuring competency and providing feedback for improvement and support. In my District, every teacher is evaluated at the beginning of their career and regularly there after or if there is any concern raised.

This is not "dialogue" or a "new approach", that some Trustees and Minister Abbott claim to have interest in. This is not "supportive". It is punitive. Dialogue starts with respecting teachers as autonomous professionals, rather than seeing their exercise of choice and professional decisions as a "barrier" to improvement and the "problem".

Nor does this have anything to do with so-called "21st century learning". In fact, these proposals would stifle change, innovation and creativity by forcing teachers into positions they do not want to be in. It is a top-down management model designed to exert control and conformity.

This has nothing to do with improving education, and everything to do with increasing Ministry and District control over who, what and how teachers teach. It is about de-professionalizing the teaching profession. It is the same kind of attack on unions that we are seeing across the US in states like Wisconsin and now in Canada with the postal workers. This so-called "public policy" is just plain old union bashing. It is Wisconsin North.

(Thanks to my colleague Kathy Couch, whose tweet on "Wisconsin North" I borrowed.)


  1. The irony/absurdity of the Wisconsin phrase is that Wisconsin had legislation that stripped collective bargaining rights. You're trying to compare this to mere proposals that have been tabled IN collective bargaining.

  2. As one of my colleagues said today, "It's a scary time to be a teacher."

  3. In response to Mr. White,

    You are right on one point. in Wisconsin, Governor Walker simply stripped collective bargaining rights. Since they have strong recall vote legislation in the state, he will probably last only 1 year before being voted out of office. In BC, we are being offered a contract that strips away all of our existing language. We are then asked to 'bargain' in good faith as long as we agree with the BCPSEA proposals as channelled by the BC Liberals. Once our contract is stripped, we may be able to 'bargain' but what is left to bargain if you have removed all provisions from the contract that protects teachers in the province. You may state that it is absurd that we are comparing ourselves to Wisconsin north but while the governor of Wisconsin decided to do away with unions with one blow, the BC Liberals, through their agent the BCPSEA and with the approval of the trustees, is doing it through 'bargaining' away all of our rights. Mr. Silas, the real irony is that you believe that this is different.

  4. Hi Richard,
    Your description still sounds like Collective Bargaining vs. No Collective Bargaining, which is an extreme difference. When there is Collective Bargaining, both parties are equal at a bargaining table. Therefore, only one's own union/bargaining agent can "bargain away all of your rights." Also, I believe in this case only legislation has the authority to strip contracts, so it doesn't make a lot of sense that bargaining would continue/commence after such a scenario (which would presumably be a long way off anyway?). There seems to be a very strong focus right now by teachers on such a legislation/contract stripping scenario when bargaining is still going on -- and in fact the tabling of proposals has only just been finished (mostly, I understand). I still hope that both bargaining teams are determined to work away at their proposals no matter how far apart they are and reach an agreement. My personal impression as a BCPSEA board member has certainly been that the BCPSEA team is very focused on this goal.

  5. Silas, BC Teachers in the last decade were:

    * deprived of the right to strike via essential services legislation
    * legislated back to work in 2001
    * stripped of bargaining rights on class size/composition and hours of work via legislation
    * legislated back to work in 2005

    Despite a court ruling declaring one piece of legislation illegal, the government has done nothing to remedy their mistake and improve classroom conditions.

    Trustees voted for these draconian "themes" and are complicit. If you don't agree with them, then speak out.

  6. These points are mostly true but I suspect that many unfortunate teachers in Wisconsin would disagree with the comparison: their situation is *significantly* more "draconian"... The BC government was given until April 2012 to remedy the Bills 27/28 situation. And the current bargaining themes are separate from the historical issues you've listed. I understand BCPSEA proposals (which yes, were certainly supported and proposed by boards/trustees at the "theme" stage) are different from the BCTF's proposals but that is to be expected, isn't it? I personally feel talking about the proposals should be left to the bargaining table but suspect many on the management side in BC, if they are aware of the BCTF proposals, aren't welcoming them warmly, either. That's the way it goes. Now what needs to happen is for our respective teams to continue bargaining in good faith and do their best to find agreement. That is what the respective memberships/constituents sent them there to do.

  7. Silas, I agree with your sentiment, but will you be surprised when the BC Liberals create new legislation that continues to inhibit teachers' ability to bargain their most fundamental working conditions? I know I won't be. Based on what I've heard and experienced in the past month I have no doubt that the Liberal government will be creating legislation that is equally as draconian as the legislation passed in Wisconsin. You're right: both sides have tabled proposals that are light years apart, and, in a perfect world, both teams will work tirelessly to reach an agreement. However, the BC Liberals have made that impossible. The mandate that the Liberals have handed BCPSEA has set up the process for failure. BCPSEA is hamstrung and they know it. Of course both sides will continue to bargain in good faith, but the the Liberal government waiting in the wings with the legislative hammer to bring forward their proposed changes regardless of the bargaining process (and I fully believe that they intend to use it if the teachers don't back down at the bargaining table), it's just a charade.