Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.

SD5 principal, vice-principal application to certify dismissed by labour board

An application from local school district principals and vice principals to certify and unionize has been dismissed by the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

Brought forward by the Southeast Kootenay chapter of the B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association, the application sought to achieve a bargaining unit in order to collectively negotiate varying terms of employment.

The School District 5 Board of Education, which opposed the application, argued that principals and vice-principals are considered excluded managers exempt from the School Act’s definition of employee under the B.C. Labour Code.

Andres Barker, the vice-chair of the B.C. Labour Relations Board, heard testimony from SD5 district staff on human resources hiring practices, expected duties of principals and vice-principals and disciplinary protocols for unionized colleagues.

Barker concluded the Southeast Kootenay Principals and Vice-Principals Association — the “Proposed Unit” — has effective determination over whether a teacher requires a performance improvement plan, effective determination through labour relations input in the first step of the grievance processes as an employer representative, and effective determination in hiring under certain circumstances.

“When considering these factors together, I find the Proposed Unit members perform the functions of a manager and are not employees under the Code, and therefore the Association is not a trade union for the purposes of the Code as it is not ‘an association of employees,’” wrote Barker.

“The result is the Association is not able to bring an application for certification pursuant to Section 18 of the Code.”

In a statement, the B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association shared the ‘deep disappointment’ of the Southeast Kootenay chapter, which began the certification process more than a year ago.

“It has been a protracted and difficult journey for the SEKPVPA members,” reads the statement. “The lack of support offered to SEKPVPA members by the School District No. 5 (SD5) Board of Education has resulted in several members returning to teaching and the employment security found in that bargaining unit, a sad loss of leadership in BC’s K-12 system.”

Frank Lento, chair of the Southeast Kootenay School District (SD5) Board of Education, declined to comment on the ruling, noting the matter remains before the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

The SEKPVPA has the right to file an appeal before June 10.

Left unresolved in Barker’s ruling was the SEKPVPA’s constitutional challenge to a section of the School Act, which declares a principal, vice principal or dean of instruction “is not an employee within the meaning of the Labour Relations Code.”

The BCPVPA asserts that members have the constitutionally-protected right to collectively negotiate their own terms and conditions for employment, and noted in a statement that British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t provide principals and vice principals the ability to collectively negotiate terms of employment.

The determination of school district principals and vice-principals as exempt managers, a view held by the Board of Education, or employees, a position held by the SEKPVPA, was a key point of discussion in the proceedings.

For example, on disciplinary-related matters, sanctions are imposed by senior district staff, rather than principals and vice principals. However, principals and vice principals issue letters of direction, which may carry the tone of disciplinary action, and some have been challenged through the union’s grievance process.

Both sides also had different interpretations of the hiring process; while the school district’s human resources department makes formal employment offers to teacher candidates, principals and vice-principals are often consulted for their judgement on final decisions, particularly for positions that require competition.

The SEKPVPA also argued that members are not managers, pointing to intermingling duties between teachers and principals or vice-principals, pointing to examples of a principal or vice-principal performing tasks by bargaining unit employees, or a union employee serving in an acting administrator position.