Educators ratify bargaining model

NANAIMO – Educators hope bargaining framework agreed upon by teachers and employers results in contract sooner.

Nanaimo educators hope a new bargaining framework agreed upon by teachers and employers last week will result in a less angst-ridden bargaining process this year.

Both the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s representative assembly and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association’s board of directors ratified the proposal – aimed at reaching a deal before the current contract expires June 30 – last weekend.

Details of the agreement include an early start to bargaining – talks were scheduled to begin yesterday – appointing a mutually agreed upon facilitator from the start, with costs shared equally by both parties, and more issues debated at local tables.

Matters to be discussed at the district level this year include layoff and recall, transfers, and posting and filling vacant positions.

“When I first heard about [the agreement], I was kind of stunned, it was great,” said Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association.

Because districts are so different, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and with 60 different contracts, there was never enough time at the provincial table to resolve issues such as this, he said.

“Teachers now have a local voice in determining their working conditions,” said Green. “What we are looking to do is really create stability in schools.”

He is especially excited about the new split of issues that gives the NDTA and Nanaimo school district a chance to revamp the district’s layoff and recall language.

Many Nanaimo teachers are laid off at the end of the school year and then rehired – often at a different school – simply because they were hired mid-year or are below the seniority line, even though they could not be replaced by anyone else, said Green.

The bargaining framework does not mention specific contract issues such as compensation or working conditions, but the union expects both of these issues to be on the table.

The agreement also calls for creation of common data on such matters as compensation, working conditions and demographics so both sides do not come out with dramatically different costing estimates for various proposals, as happened last time, said Jamie Brennan, school board chairman.

“If you have disagreements on those issues, then you’re starting off disagreeing,” he said.

Brennan expects the biggest challenge in this round of bargaining is the province’s “moneyless mandate” – any increases in compensation must be found within existing budgets with no new money from the province.

Green said teachers will be looking for some sort of increase since the union accepted two years of zeros last round of bargaining.

The bargaining framework agreed to by teachers and employers is different from what was proposed last week by Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Don McRae.

Two days before the framework, which was quietly hammered out between the two parties last fall, was ratified by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the province unveiled its own proposed framework for a 10-year agreement with teachers.

The province’s proposal calls for indexing public school teacher salary increases to an average of increases given to other public sector employees and creation of an education policy council with representatives from government, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. School Trustees Association to advise government on policy priorities and allocating a $100-million “priority education investment fund” – available in the third year of the agreement to address education priorities.

The province’s proposal caught local educators off guard last week since teachers and employers already had a proposed bargaining framework.

But McRae said in an e-mailed statement that the measures agreed to by teachers and the employers’ association closely mirror what is proposed in the government’s framework.

The key different is that the teachers’ union and employers’ agreement lasts for the next four months, whereas the province’s proposal is seeking a broader set of improvements for the long term.