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Employer's negotiator 'confrontational' at teacher bargaining session: union

A B.C. teachers' union document leaked to The Tyee Solutions Society alleges the lead negotiator for its employer was "angry, disrespectful, and confrontational" during yesterday's bargaining session with the union.

"At one point, he was on his feet, leaning across the table and provocatively pointing his finger at the BCTF representatives," reads the B.C. Teachers' Federation document sent out to teachers yesterday. "It was clear to the [union] team that today's talks would not be productive."

Union president Jim Iker said the "outburst" from Peter Cameron, the BC Public School Employers' Association's lead negotiator, happened at the beginning of the meeting and Cameron was pointing directly at him.

"He's been hired by the employer and government to get a deal, and yet he doesn't have the authority from government to actually get a deal with us," said Iker, who added Cameron has also expressed frustration with the union's public allegations that the employers' association isn't bargaining in good faith.

The union document also alleges the employers' association canceled today's scheduled bargaining session after yesterday's session failed to bring the two sides closer to a negotiated deal. But Iker admits the decision to cancel was mutual.

"They saw no purpose in the meeting today, so then we agreed that we would cancel it," he said.

The employers' association was contacted for comment over the allegations, but has yet to respond.

Iker said the union is expected to accept a "pattern": salary increases tabled by the employers' association that match those accepted by other public sector workers. Those unions were allowed to negotiate for their particular working conditions, said Iker, and teachers should be able to do the same.

No union, however, has accepted a 10-year deal like the one the employers' association and the B.C government is insisting teachers accept, he said.

The union's executive committee is meeting today and tomorrow to discuss their next steps. The union has been in stage one of strike action since April 22, with teachers refusing to supervise students outside of class, meet with administrators, or send or receive written or electronic communication with administrators.

The next stage is rotating one-day-per-week teacher walkouts.

"We've always stated that our desire is to get a collective agreement, not to escalate," said Iker. "But escalation will depend on whether there's progress, so of course that will be part of our discussion at our executive table."

But after the union made changes to its own bargaining proposals earlier this month, lowering salary expectations and lengthening the proposed contract from three to four years, it expects its employer to make moves as well.

"We were expecting them to have some counter proposals to the revisions that we did. We were hopeful they would come with the desire to bargain," said Iker. Instead, "they came with no counter proposals for us on anything," he said.

The union will be at the bargaining table on Friday, however, and there are more bargaining dates scheduled for next week.

The two sides have been negotiating since February 2013, although Cameron wasn't appointed as government spokesperson for the employer until June 2013. Government later dismissed the Employers' Association's board of directors, and replaced them with Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Health Employers' Association.*

A poll released today by polling firm Insights West found 63 per cent of British Columbians surveyed thought the government was doing a bad job with teacher contract negotiations, while 23 per cent thought government was handling it well.

The teachers' contract expired June 30, 2013.

*Correction: previously stated board was replaced by Peter Cameron.

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

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