‘This was a bitter dispute’ says Nelson teachers' union president
After more than a year of negotiations, seven months of limited job action, and around 95 bargaining sessions, the BC Teachers’ Federation is recommending its members support a new two-year contract.
Nelson District Teachers’ Association president Tom Newell said the BCTF was finally able to support the tentative collective agreement after government concession demands were taken off the table.
“If that hadn’t been part of it, we wouldn’t be talking today,” he said.
But teachers had to back down on their demands for salary increases and improvements to class size and composition — at least for now.
If approved, the new contract will expire June, 2013, which means teachers will return to bargaining next May. In the meantime, the BCTF will be in court arguing that the provincial government’s two-year wage freeze violated the union’s constitutional right to collective bargaining.
BC public school teachers have been without a contract since June, 2011. In September they began a “work to rule” campaign, which escalated to a full-scale walkout in mid-March. After three days on the picket lines, teachers were legislated back to work and ordered to end all job action under Bill 22.
BC teachers are the last public sector union to accept a contract under the province’s “net-zero” mandate, and they could face fines or further punitive legislation if they don’t sign a contract soon.
At this point, Newell believes accepting the contract is teachers’ best option.
“For the average teacher, it will be bitter and disappointing (to accept the contract), but at least there will be a little less anxiety about September, knowing they won’t still be on strike going into the next school year,” Newell said. “We could continue negotiating, but with all our job action being deemed illegal and the potential that we wouldn’t make further gains anyways, I think this is the best way to go.”
BC Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) chair Melanie Joy, who is also chair of the Kootenay Lake School Board, said in a press release that negotiations were difficult for both parties, but she’s pleased they’ve reached a resolution.
“We always believed that if the parties could get down to focused discussions at the table, a negotiated deal was possible,” Joy said. “There’s no question that an agreement reached by the parties is always the best resolution, and that was always BCPSEA’s objective.”
The tentative agreement does include some minor increases in paid leave provisions for teachers, such as increasing days for discretionary leave from two to three days, and extending bereavement leave from three to five days.
As well, the BCPSEA agreed to spend two months beginning next September negotiating with the BCTF regarding local bargaining for some issues that are currently discussed at the provincial level.
But Newell said the teacher’s deserve more than what the contract is offering them.
“This was a bitter dispute and we learned the employer doesn’t respect teachers very much,” he said.
Teachers will vote on whether to not to ratify the agreement by Friday and members of the employers’ association will have their votes in by next Wednesday.