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Employer unprepared to bargain last week: teachers' union

The BC Teachers’ Federation says bargaining has been put on hold until April 1 because government wasn’t prepared to counter the union’s salary proposals.

In a message sent to it’s 41,000 plus members, the union said during their March 11 bargaining session, it became apparent “the employer was not ready to make counter offers or engage in serious bargaining.”

“Peter Cameron, lead negotiator for [BC Public School Employers’ Association], spent some time trying to explain their low-ball salary proposal in an attempt to justify it. However, [teachers’ union president] Jim Iker said it would be best for them to just come back with something more realistic and fair. The [union] also tried to get the employer to respond to other issues like working conditions for [teachers on call], but once again, they were not prepared to do so.”

Bargaining for March 12 was cancelled and both sides agreed to resume bargaining on April 1, the teachers’ first available date. The union is currently wrapped up in their annual general meeting happening in Vancouver until Tuesday, and spring break holidays would make bargaining impossible in the rest of March.

In an interview with The Tyee, employers’ association negotiator Peter Cameron said his side did need some time to do research on their own proposals for teachers on call.

“On [March 11] we agreed to adjourn because at that point neither of us was in a position to counter-propose,” he said.

“The rest of that is editorial comment, saying that we needed that time because we were unable to respond to their counter proposal on the wage position. That’s very inaccurate.”

Cameron said the teachers’ wage proposal—a three per cent increase every year for four years, plus a one to two per cent annual cost of living increase—was better than teachers’ salary proposals in previous rounds of bargaining. In fact it seems to be lower than the 16 per cent increase over five years teachers got in 2006.

However that was a different time, Cameron said, and teachers’ salary proposals are also asking for an increase in teacher starting salaries and improvements to teacher on call pay. That’s too much for government.

The employers’ association is offering a 10-year deal with a 6.5 per cent increase over 10 years. Teachers would receive a 0.5 per cent increase in the first two years plus yet-to-be-determined “concessions”.

Cameron says this is in keeping with the cooperative gains mandate other unions have accepted contracts under, including the health sector which he believes is most comparable to public education because it is almost completely dependent on government funding, as opposed to post-secondary schools where tuition provides significant funding.

But union president Jim Iker said each union contract should be dealt with on an individual basis: “We believe that every sector needs to be dealt with in a way that responds to what the issues are in each sector and respects the work that each sector does,” adding starting teachers have the lowest salaries in Canada, hence the increase in starting pay the union is seeking.

Iker added there will not be an increase in teacher job action before bargaining resumes in April. Teachers have * taken a strike vote, but so far have taken no job action.

One thing the two sides can agree on, though, is how far apart they are right now.

“They say that we’re not prepared to bargain seriously because we’re not agreeing with them or coming much closer to them, and I guess we would say the same of them,” said Cameron.

*Correction: article originally said teachers had stopped doing administrative duties as part of job action. This was incorrect.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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