Request to penalize teachers’ union dismissed again

A request to charge the teachers' union for work not being done during job action has failed a second time.

A request by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association to be granted the authority to charge the teachers’ union for work not being done during job action has failed a second time.

Last month, the Labour Relations Board denied the association’s application that would require teachers to prepare and distribute report cards and require the B.C. Teachers’ Federation – upon notice from the association – to pay school districts an amount equal to 15 per cent of teachers’ gross salaries and benefits each month for work that teachers are not performing during job action.

Last week, the employers’ association applied for reconsideration of the financial aspect of the decision, arguing that there was an imbalance of pressure in the controlled strike environment, with teachers continuing to receive full pay without financial consequences.

The board denied this reapplication, but acknowledged that the current job action is ineffective in achieving results – a bargained solution to the labour dispute.

“I agree that the current process doesn’t necessarily lead to a conclusion,” said Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association.

While the board suggests a re-examination of what both parties agreed to be essential services, DeGear suggests removing the essential services designation altogether on education.

“I think teaching is essential, but the term essential service is a legal term,” he said. “It’s usually reserved for life and death situations.”

Prior to 2002, teachers had the right to strike, said DeGear, and going back to this model would apply plenty of pressure to both sides – to teachers, who have mortgages and other bills to pay, and to employers, who are under pressure to provide a service to the public.

Currently, both parties have to apply to the board to determine what services teachers are still required to provide during job action and what duties can be considered non-essential, he said. If the union wanted to strike, that requires another board application to determine what that might look like.

“If you take away the essential services tag, things will take a more natural course,” said DeGear. “What everyone wants to see locally is some bargaining at the provincial table and it’s not happening.”

Melanie Joy, the employers’ association chairwoman, said it is also the association’s position that the current essential services order is ineffective.

“The BCPSEA board has to take a look at what our options are,” she said. “Phase one [job action] is just not working.”

Joy said removing the essential service designation on education is a good conversation to have, but that is something the province would have to do.