Saturday, May 24, 2014

When is a lockout not a lockout?

On May 21st, the bargaining agent for the BC Government, BCPSEA, issued a "lockout" notice to the BC teachers' union, the BCTF. It claimed to be notification of a "partial" lockout. Amidst the confusion, what can we say about the letter, the lockout status, the intent of government, and the myriad questions the letter has raised?

A lockout is permitted under the BC Labour Relations Code once a contract terminates and the two parties have reached impasse at bargaining. A lockout also requires a vote on the employer side because BCPSEA represents multiple employers (School Boards). Here are the relevant clauses:

61 (1) If 2 or more employers are engaged in the same dispute with their employees, a person must not declare or authorize a lockout and an employer must not lock out his or her employees until a vote as to whether to lock out has been taken by all the employers in accordance with the regulations, and a majority of those employers who vote have voted for a lockout.
Voting requirements
39  (1) All voting directed by the board or by the minister under this Code and other votes held by a trade union or employers' organization of their respective members on a question of whether to strike or lock out, or whether to accept or ratify a proposed collective agreement, must be by secret ballot cast in such a manner that the person expressing a choice cannot be identified with the choice expressed.

(2) The results of a vote referred to in subsection (1), including the number of ballots cast and the number of votes for, against or spoiled, must be made available to both
(a) the members, and
(b) the trade union and employer affected.
(3) A vote referred to in subsection (1) must be conducted in accordance with the regulations.
(4) If the board in its discretion directs that they may vote, the following persons are eligible to vote in a representation vote:
(a) persons who at the time an application for certification was received by the board were not employees in the proposed unit but are employees in the unit at the time of the vote;
(b) persons who at the time an application for decertification was received by the board were employees in the unit, but are not employees in the unit at the time of the vote.

Our local union president asked our Board Chair if a vote had been taken and how our Trustees voted. She responded that no vote took place at the May 7th South Island Regional BCPSEA meeting. Did a vote take place some other time in some other location? Did BCPSEA inform the BCTF of such a vote, including the number of ballots case and number of votes for, against and spoiled? Not to my knowledge.

Putting this issue aside, the next questions I have is, what exactly am I being locked out of? The letter gives direction that limit working hours and specifically prohibit work done at lunch time and recess, and before 45 minutes prior to instructional time and after 45 beyond instructional time. The letter argues that given that a teachers' day is 9.1 hours for the purposes of Employment Insurance, this constitutes a shortening of our working day. The letter also, however, exempts this restriction for all voluntary activities. Finally, it produces a short list of occasional activities that are not to be done, including professional development.

If one agrees with the 9.1 hour day assumption, a teacher's day is now shortened to 7 hours (5 1/2 hours of instructional time plus the 45 minutes before and after). I, along with most teachers, do not have any of the listed activities scheduled next week, such as an in-service training or professional development activity.

So the great looming question then is, what work are teachers not supposed to do?

The basic paid components of a teacher's job are planning, instructing, marking/assessing/providing feedback, and reporting. Since instructional time is intact, the only logical conclusion is that we will be unable to perform some of these other tasks in the time allowed. And what is the impact of not planning, assessing, providing feedback and reporting? A diminished educational program - precisely the thing the government says won't happen.

The last logical conundrum is this - if the reduced workday is the rationale for the wage roll back, exactly why were there two distinct wage roll back threats? 5% if we stop our rotating strikes, but 10% if we carry on. How is it that the government can on the one hand claim the wage roll back is for work not done, and at the same time say that the size of the wage roll back depends on our rotating strikes (for which we will automatically be docked a day's pay)?

What does shine through from the government's letter and commentary is the purpose of the lockout. They want teachers to do all our work but not get all our pay. They want a lockout without a lockout. Or as one teacher said it on twitter - it's Schrödinger's lockout (@JCraig_sd45).


  1. excellent the schrodinger's cat made this clear as air for me!

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  3. Thanks Tara. This is one of the clearest summaries yet of the BCPSEA/Kafka screenplay. The last point has particularly bothered me. How can they tie a pay cut to days where I'm already losing full pay?

    It seems to me that Peter Cameron needs the lockout to appear real enough in order to justify a 10% cut, but not real enough to cause political problems for the government.

  4. Thanks for this summary! I will be sharing.

    Now I am hearing Sheldon Cooper's voice trying to untangle this... ;-)