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Employer to bill teachers for benefits if deal isn't reached

The BC Public School Employers' Association made good on a promise to put counter pressure on the teachers' union today by announcing a plan to make the union cover teacher health and welfare benefits for June unless a contract is signed by June 30.

The move, which the employers' association estimates will cost the union about $5 million, invokes section 62 of the Labour Relations Code and comes in reaction to the union's stage one administrative strike launched last week.

Stage one means teachers are no longer accepting or sending written or electronic communication with school administrators, meeting with administrators, or supervising students outside of class time. The other stages are rotating one-day-a-week walkouts, and another vote on a full-scale teacher walkout.

The employer is also promising to cancel a June 27 administrative day, without paying teachers, if a deal isn't reached by then.

The union was informed of the employers' association's decision today in a letter sent to union president Jim Iker from Peter Cameron, the government's spokesperson on the employers' bargaining committee.

"[Employers' Association] has tabled positions that demonstrate our willingness to negotiate a fair agreement for teachers," the letter reads.

"However this agreement must also be fair to other public sector employees and affordable for B.C. taxpayers. The absence of any significant movement from the [union's] opening monetary position makes it impossible to engage in meaningful bargaining."

The employers' association will continue to cover premiums for the life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment plans. The union will be reimbursed for the charges if a deal is reached by the end of June.

Union president Jim Iker said the move is both punitive and illegal.

"Here we have the employer asking us to pay for the cost of our benefits for June when we're still in the classroom teaching,' he said.

"We think it's a violation of the essential services designation from the Labour Relations Board. We have an agreement on that order, though it doesn't specifically talk about this piece. But if they want to alter the terms then they need to make an application to the Labour Board and we'll deal with it there."

The Tyee called the Employers' Association for comment and has yet to hear back.

In an interview with CKNW, Cameron said the union has tabled a new wage proposal of 15.9 per cent over four years, higher than its previous proposal of 13.3 per cent over three years.

"In some respects, that's a step backwards," he said.

Iker disagrees, saying the union is agreeing to a contract that is one year longer, and wage increases that start smaller and get higher in the third and fourth year. The union is now asking for:

  • 3 per cent plus 0.5 per cent of the cost of living allowance in the first year;
  • 2.5 per cent plus 0.75 per cent cost of living in the second;
  • 2.75 per cent plus 0.75 per cent cost of living in the third year;
  • and 2.5 per cent and 0.75 per cent cost of living in the fourth year.

"What we've shown now is we've moved down from our previous positions in the first, second, and third year," said Iker. "In the fourth year we’ve actually moved down from what we would have considered had we tabled four years [proposal] in the beginning.'

The union president added expecting teachers to agree to wage proposals bargained for other unions means teachers aren't allowed to bargain their own wages, which is unfair.

"We're not bargaining for other public sector employees," he said.

The union plans to respond to Cameron's letter with a letter of their own outlining their position that the move is illegal. There are no plans to move to stage two of teacher strikes.

Cameron acknowledges the courts haven't ruled on this kind of pressure tactic before.

"It's pretty clear to us what the purpose of those provisions in the Labour Code are and we think we're on sound legal footing. But it's true, it hasn't been adjudicated -- no doubt it will be shortly," he told CKNW.

First payments for the benefits are due June 1 and Cameron says the union will receive an invoice in time to meet that deadline.

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

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