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Updated: As Strike Continues, Teacher Bargaining Facilitator Steps Aside

Ministry yet to respond to union request for mediation.

By Katie Hyslop 20 Jun 2014 | TheTyee.ca

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

Both the BC Teachers' Federation and the Ministry of Education confirmed facilitator Mark Brown, who has sat at the bargaining table since talks began in February 2013, stepped down last night after the union officially requested mediator Vince Ready yesterday to help both sides reach a deal.

Spokespersons for both parties confirmed Brown's resignation, but neither Minister Peter Fassbender nor union President Jim Iker was available for comment. CKNW is reporting Iker has already had a phone conversation with Ready and that Fassbender had confirmed Brown had "booked out of talks, saying he felt he had lost the confidence of the union."

But a union spokesperson said Brown's departure is normal as "one process is over and we're asking for a new process to begin, which is mediation." *This afternoon, the BC Public School Employers' Association released a letter from interim CEO Mike Roberts expressing concern the call for a mediator is more about "public relations rather than a genuine desire for successful mediation."

Roberts went on to say both Minister Fassbender and Peter Cameron had asked Iker to call Cameron, but as of the letter's publication Iker had not called.** Roberts indicated the employers' are open to involving a mediator, whether it's Ready or someone else.

"The BC Public School Employers' Association supports getting a mediator involved in the dispute -- and the sooner the better," read the statement.

The union president was not available to comment on the letter, but a spokesperson union said Iker did speak to both Cameron and Fassbender about mediation today.

Who's the mediator?

Ready, a freelance mediator most recently brought in to reach a settlement between the provincial and federal governments and truckers in the Port of Metro Vancouver truckers strike in March, has worked with the teachers' union before.

In 2005, the province appointed him as industrial inquiry commissioner to design a new teacher bargaining process, only to have him put that project on hold to help facilitate an agreement between the union and government during the teachers' illegal two-week strike in October 2005.

Ready's report came out in 2007, but few of his proposed changes were adopted, including both parties establishing a common understanding of all data surrounding collective bargaining including the total cost of compensation and benefits, teacher demographics, and labour issues.

Data has been a point of contention for both sides during the current bargaining, particularly when it comes to class size and composition and the number of oversized classes in the province. Neither side has been able to agree on how much the other is proposing for salary and benefits would cost the province, either.

Brown hasn't left bargaining behind just yet. He is still required to write a report for both parties regarding the process so far. The union couldn't confirm the status of that report. The Tyee reached out to both Ready and Brown and is still waiting for a response. The employers' association said Ready is out of town until next week and is unsure of his schedule thereafter.

The teachers' union is currently on its fourth day of a province-wide walkout after 17 months of bargaining with its employer failed to reach a negotiated collective agreement.

Public school classes across the province have been cancelled, but provincial exams have been going ahead as part of an essential services order by the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

*Updated to include statement from BCPSEA at 4:30 p.m.

**Story corrected June 21 at 10:30 p.m.  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, BC Politics

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