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BC Politics

Teachers, Employer Dispute 'Lockout' Terms

Employer limits after-hours activity, punishes strikers with 10 per cent pay cut.

Katie Hyslop 22 May

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

There is little agreement between the B.C. teachers' union and its employer over what impacts a new teacher "lockout" will have on teachers, students and parents.

In a letter sent to BC Teachers' Federation President Jim Iker Wednesday afternoon, the BC Employers' Association announced that starting May 26 it will dock five per cent of teachers' salaries to make up for missed work during the ongoing stage one strike.

But if teachers make good on their promise to start stage two of their strike, rotating one-day-a-week walkouts, the pay cut will increase on May 26 to 10 per cent until a negotiated settlement is reached.

The confusion between the two sides is over the employers' "lockout" on teachers, which the letter says will prohibit teachers from being at school 45 minutes before or after classes, working during recess or lunch, attending any meetings or professional development events during school hours, or evaluating educational programs.

"We are suspending the performance of specified duties and reducing the hours of work of your members, which provides the basis for this reduction in salary," reads the letter.

The union says this prevents teachers from marking exams and report cards, participating in school graduation ceremonies, volunteering for extracurricular activities, helping students outside of class time, working at home, or meeting with parents.

At a press conference this morning, union president Iker said the stage one strike has been designed to minimally affect students and parents, putting pressure on school administrators instead by refusing to meet with them or supervise students outside of class time.

But with these moves from the employers' association, who receive input from B.C.'s education ministry, Premier Christy Clark has put the pressure on students and parents, too: "The premier who once promised to put families first, and who just yesterday said that children should not be put in the middle, is launching significant disruptions to our education system," said Iker.

The employers' association held its own press conference this afternoon to respond to the union, saying the union was spreading "misleading" and "factually wrong" information about the letter.

Teachers will not be prevented from participating in voluntary duties or extracurricular activities like graduation ceremonies, said chief negotiator Peter Cameron, despite the letter's statement that teachers must not be in schools longer than 45 minutes before or after classes.

Cameron said it's possible the letter will have to be a "living document" with further changes and clarifications, but dismissed concerns that the document was confusing.

"We're trying to avoid impact on students and still have something that puts pressure on the union," he said, adding neither the premier nor the ministry ordered the "lockout" measures.

"It's complicated, and there are going to be things that need to be clarified. I'm not embarrassed about that at all, and I don't see what the problem is," he said.

'Responding reluctantly': employer

The lockout conditions come in addition to the cancelled classes on June 25 and 26 for schools with Grades 8 to 12 -- but not Kindergarten to Grade 7 -- and the cancelled administrative day on June 27. Teachers conducting and marking exams on those days, like English 10 and Socials 11, should be excused from the lockout and paid 100 per cent, Cameron said.

Union president Iker said this could have a negative affect on teacher prep time for summer school this year, too.

In the letter to the union, Michael Marchbank, public administrator for the employers' association, says his association still intends to achieve a negotiated settlement and is "responding reluctantly" given the union's wage proposals, which the association says is "four times" the amount accepted by any other public service union in B.C.

The union and the employers' association delayed today's bargaining session until 3:30 p.m. because of the press conferences. They are back to the bargaining table again tomorrow and May 26 to 28, but both parties acknowledge they are too far apart at this point to reach a collective agreement without movement at the table.

The employer is offering a 7.25 per cent wage increase over six years, with no changes to class size, class composition, or specialist teacher-to-student ratios. If a deal is reached by June 30, full-time teachers will receive a signing bonus of $1,200, pro-rated for part-time and on-call teachers.

Previously the employer pushed for a 10-year deal, a campaign promise from the ruling BC Liberals in the 2013 provincial election.

"Last week [the employers'] made a significant move on the term of the agreement and offered a signing bonus," reads Marchbank's letter, referring to the move to a six-year contract. "To date [the union] has given no indication it will be making a significant change in its position which would be expected in collective bargaining and is very disappointing."

The union wants a four-year deal with a salary increase of 10.75 per cent plus a percentage of cost of living, a return to the class size and composition formula found in teacher contracts in 2001, and lower specialist teacher-to-student ratios in schools. The employers' association has calculated the teachers wage increase at 15.9 per cent over four years, assuming cost of living is 1.5 per cent every year.

Currently the union says B.C. teacher salaries range from the sixth to ninth-lowest in Canada.

Union wants class size on the table

Iker said his union is open to compromise, but wants to see movement from government on class size and composition levels first -- "something they've been unwilling to do so far."

He raised the two B.C. Supreme Court decisions, one in 2011 and another this past January, that found government unconstitutionally stripped teachers of their right to bargain class size and composition levels in 2002 and again in 2012.

"Instead of giving the school districts necessary funding to put in place smaller classes for our students and more access to specialist teachers, what they did was put language on the table that would actively strip out those provisions that were illegally stripped out in 2002," he said, referring to the employers' current offer that class sizes stay the same, without a cap on class compositions.

Marchbank's letter said the union's class size and composition demands would cost $2 billion a year, a number reached by including the cost of the salary increase, hiring more teachers, and opening more classrooms.

The union maintains it's closer to $300 million annually, the number government's lawyers quoted during a recent B.C. Supreme Court case on teacher bargaining.

Cameron says $300 million is the school boards' estimate of the cost of immediately implementing teachers' class size and composition formula. It would involve deep cuts to the education system, like laying off all education assistants and cancelling some elective courses.

The employers' association has offered to reconvene a data working group comprised of members of both organizations to discuss class size and composition levels, but the union has refused.

Iker said this is because Cameron has already indicated it would make no difference to bargaining: "We continually ask them 'by going back to a data table, would that help us get closer to a collective agreement?' At the last bargaining session Peter Cameron said 'No. By reconvening the data table it won't help us get closer.'"

Cameron said his response was that the data from the working group alone wouldn't get them a deal, but it would help.

"The parties have actually got to bargain on the basis of the information, but at least we'd be starting with the information," he said, adding "it's unseemly" that the two sides are fighting publicly using different cost calculations.

Legislated contract 'easy way out' for teachers: Cameron

When asked if he thought a legislated teacher contract is a possibility, Cameron said it wasn't in his power to determine that. Nor would he say government was provoking a teachers' strike, a reference to the recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that government tried to provoke a teachers' strike in 2012.

"The fact was what was ordered was a cooling off period and [a mediator] coming in to help the parties get an agreement," he said, referencing the Education Improvement Act that the court found partially unconstitutional this past January.

Cameron said legislating the teachers back to work this time would be "an easy way out" for the union, adding he didn't think the union should "provoke" legislation. Negotiations, complete with pressure on either side, are the best option, he said.

"Remember: this union has been a problem in terms of bargaining under the Social Credit, the [New Democratic Party], and under the Liberals [governments]. The common denominator is the union, not the government."  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, BC Politics

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