Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mr. Abbott - the ball is in your court...

As students return to school in BC this week, teachers are beginning a "teach only" job action. The purpose of this action is to put pressure on Administration, and thereby government, to come to the bargaining table with a new mandate. Only when the government moves off of it's "net zero" position can real bargaining begin.

The government has come to the table with an extreme position - not one penny available for bargaining. Only concessions on the table. With inflation factored in, this means government wants teachers to "negotiate" how to cut their salary and benefits. They have stated over and over again that they will not move off of this position.

Teachers have actually taken "0" percent four times in the last 13 years - 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2005. Once was when we "traded" no salary increase for class size limits, which have since been unilaterally removed by this government. The second was imposed when the government legislated teachers back to work and imposed zero for two years.

Meanwhile, as teacher salaries fell from 3rd in Canada to 8th in the period since 2006, the premiere and MLA's (including Mr. Abbott himself) received a 29% pay increase.

Is this good faith bargaining?

Bargaining is a process of give and take. Of compromise. Both parties put positions on the table and expect to have to change their position. The process of negotiations is to work through these compromises. Teachers have openly said that our proposals are our "starting" position.

In this case, however, one party, BCPSEA (the government's bargaining agent), has said there is no compromise. There is no room to move. "Net zero" will not change. In essence, there is no negotiation.

Some newspaper editorials and even BCPSEA have been quoted publicly saying that the bargaining structure is doomed "to fail". Any bargaining structure where the people who make the decisions are not actually at the table is not likely to succeed. In this case, government holds the purse strings but they only have a "representative" at the table - not someone who has the authority to make decisions on their behalf.

Further complicating the bargaining process is the fact that even though individual school boards both pay for and administer the collective agreement, they do not bargain very much locally with teachers' associations. This makes it difficult if not impossible to identify areas of shared interest, since the people who live with the agreement are similarly not at the table.

If Mr. Abbott, the Minister of Education, has an interest in fixing the current dispute, he needs to:

a) put an end to the "mandate" that restricts BCPSEA
b) agree to fund a new agreement
c) allow school Boards to negotiate

Then, bargaining could start in earnest.


  1. Where has BCPSEA said the bargaining structure is "doomed to fail"?

    Minister Abbott is not in charge of the net-zero mandate that applies to the entire BC public sector, not only teachers. Among the many responsibilities she has right now, this is in Shirley Bond's portfolio.

    But really, dropping/altering the net-zero mandate would be a major government decision that would involve Treasury Board, the Premier, all of cabinet... If you don't like it, I definitely understand why, but I mainly want to point out the fact that it is not actually a Ministry of Education decision. Suggesting it's a Ministry decision also implies that money can be taken from elsewhere in the Ministry to pay for teacher raises; this can't actually be done, and I also trust that you probably don't want that to happen because the money simply isn't there!

  2. Hi Silas,

    The "doomed to fail" was tweeted by Janet Steffenhagen (Vancouver Sun) yesterday:

    "Do you agree with @bcpsea that bargaining stucture designed to fail? If so, then why no fix?"

    Mr. Abbott can go to cabinet to seek a change to the mandate. The issue is that whoever is at the bargaining table ought to have authority to bargain and funding to bargain with.

  3. Thanks Tara. You expressed the thoughts in my head very articulately. More articulately than I could. Another point to add is that when the government illegally stripped class size and composition out of the collective agreement they saved hundreds of millions of dollars. They saved that money illegally. Now they are saying they are not going to spend a cent more than they already are on public education as whole in BC. It's like a medical insurance company illegally refusing to give you money for a legitimate medical claim for years on end. Then when the courts finally tell them to pay you they drag their heals and don't pay out any extra money.


  4. Silas-there is a solution: give Bc teachers wage parity in year 3. What is BCPSEA offering once Net Zero is over??? Or is Net Zero a long term or peranent strategy???

  5. This is great information to get out there to the public. I agree that you are very articulate in stating the issues and the facts. Have any media people interviewed you? I wish that they would. I don't see any investigative reporting on this situation, to let the public in on what the real facts and history are around the bargaining table and especially about our collective agreement being stripped... and what our real wages are... I think it is important for this kind of information, such as your letter above, to be more publicized.

  6. BC has the lowest corporate tax rate in the G8 countries. Not just Canada, or, North America, but the whole of the G8. This is crazy! Corporations are not paying their fair share. Plain and simple. Well, who do you think the Liberals are taking care of? It's sure not regular people.

    As for the HST, it was a 2 billion dollar gift to corporations when they already pay the least amount of tax in the G8. Wow. With the HST, the average BC citizen would pay more when the wealthy elite would pay less. This is why it got voted down.

    Raise the corporate tax rate 1%, just a tiny amount, and fix the money problems in BC. The government has the power. They CHOOSE to let middle / low income earners and social services like education pay for the wealthy. Bank profits this year alone are in the billions, again.

    Time to stop the insanity of Liberals driving the run away train of "capitalism rules" and rebalance the tax equation just a little. Sure business is important, but not like this. And, no, I am not an NDP or Liberal supporter. I believe in a Liberal or NDP minority government so all citizens are represented, not just those with Million dollar yachts or ones belonging to big unions. Things need to be more balanced.