The B.C. government and the teachers’ union need to sit down and talk about how to sit down and talk. When Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae announced a proposal last week for a 10-year labour deal with teachers, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Susan Lambert shot the plan down, saying it was ludicrous.
In its proposal, as outlined in a document called Working Together for Students, the government said all stakeholders, especially the BCTF, were consulted. Lambert said her organization didn’t know anything about it.
“We were approached to submit a brief on bargaining structures,” she told the Globe and Mail. “So we did. The premier several times in the fall talked about a 10-year deal; she never did talk to us about it.”
Clark’s timing was awkward. While she was announcing her proposal on working out a better way of negotiating, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and the BCTF were putting the final details on an agreement for a new bargaining framework. That agreement was ratified on the weekend.
The agreement offers considerable hope. It calls for the two sides to begin bargaining Feb. 4, and proposals will be exchanged by March 1. A facilitator will be appointed to assist with the talks, something commissions in the past have recommended.
McRae told CKNW radio in Vancouver on Monday that he didn’t know the trustees’ and teachers’ associations would be talking about the issue until a few days before, yet that agreement was formulated in committee in December. Senior ministry officials, including assistant deputy minister Claire Avison, sit on the BCPSEA board of directors.
Clark’s dream of a decade free of teacher labour strife is a worthy one, and components of her proposal merit serious consideration, but the plan should have been a co-operative effort involving government, trustees and teachers. By not consulting the BCTF in advance, she almost guaranteed a negative response from the union.
On the other hand, dismissing the government’s proposal brings little risk for Lambert. Polls strongly indicate a change in government is in the works for B.C., and unless something changes drastically, a party traditionally considered more friendly to teachers will be in power.
Something must replace the poisonous atmosphere that has characterized negotiations over the past 20 years. It’s like a long-range artillery battle, fought largely in the media — one side lobs a shell from a distance and the other launches one in return, each trying to score points on the other. And the kids are collateral damage.
They need to get together in the same room, not in hand-to-hand combat, but with the goal of establishing an effective framework in which to work things out.
The trustees and teachers have made concrete steps in that direction with their agreement. The government put forth some constructive ideas. It’s just too bad the two proposals weren’t more complementary and less competitive.
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