On Friday evening, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) announced that it had rejected the recommendations laid out in the mediator’s report issued on Nov. 1.
Mediator David Schaub of the Labour Relations Board of British Columbia presented the report containing recommendations for settlement to both the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) which represents the province in the negotiations. Schaub asked that both sides come to him with a decision by the end of the day on Friday, Nov. 8.
On Thursday, BCTF president Teri Mooring explained that the main issues teachers in B.C. are facing include a teacher shortage due to low wages and a lack of class size and composition limits. Teachers in B.C. have the lowest starting wages in Canada and the lowest overall maximum wages in Western Canada, she noted. As a result, the province is experiencing a teacher shortage because it’s tough to recruit new teachers and keep ones that are already working in B.C. Teachers are asking for a wage increase that aligns with inflation.
The province has been offering a 2 per cent raise each year for three years, which Mooring noted does not match inflation. The BCTF acknowledged that a raise of more than 2 per cent would trigger the “me-too” clause that would require other public sector unions to receive the same wage increase. Instead, it was suggested that the B.C. teachers’ salary grid be bumped up and that the starting wage be dropped. This would scale the pay of all teachers up without changing the salary allotment.
“Teachers are seeking the same kind of grid adjustments that other unions like the BCGEU [B.C. Government & Service Employees’ Union] and BCNU [B.C. Nurses’ Union] were able to achieve in this round under the same mandate,” said Mooring in a written statement on Friday.
The BCTF also noted that the mediator’s report did not include recommendations for improvements to class size and composition limits.
Teachers are expected to individually address the learning needs of each student so that they can succeed and to do this, class sizes need to be manageable, Mooring explained.
She noted that teachers have made concessions regarding salary and benefits in past negotiations in an effort to make the student learning environment better by focusing on class size and composition limits. In 2002, language regarding class size and composition was “stripped from the contract” and she feels teachers should be able to negotiate without making concessions about wages and benefits this time around.
In a written statement, BCPSEA board chair Alan Chell said the employer was “surprised and disappointed” that the BCTF did not agree to the mediator’s recommendations.
“Although the mediator’s recommendations didn’t represent BCPSEA’s preferred approach, the board believed they would provide the public school system with the necessary labour stability while we attempted to work with the BCTF.”
On Thursday, Schaub told Black Press Media that if one or both of the parties don’t agree to the settlement recommendations, dates for future negotiations will be set.
As negotiations continue, both sides have indicated a desire to keep the conversation moving.
“We’re not going to solve 20 years of under-funding all at once, but we need to move forward,” Mooring told Black Press Media on Thursday. “We will work as hard as we can to achieve a deal.”
Negotiations between the BCTF and BCPSEA have been ongoing since February. The previous Provincial Collective Agreement expired on June 30 so B.C. teachers currently have no contract.
Black Press Media reached out to the mediator, but he could not be reached for comment by press time.