Teachers to vote on job action

Nanaimo teachers – along with their public counterparts across the province – are gearing up to vote on whether to take job action in September if things don't improve at the bargaining table.

Nanaimo teachers – along with their public counterparts across the province – are gearing up to vote on whether to take job action in September if things don’t improve at the bargaining table.

Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has made no headway at the table on issues teachers have identified as top priorities – improved working conditions (classroom size and composition, learning specialist ratios, caseloads and preparation time), increased salaries and benefits and more power at local bargaining tables.

He said teachers expect to be able to bargain class size and composition limits, following a Supreme Court ruling that legislation stripping this language from their contracts is unconstitutional, but there has been no talk about this issue at the table.

“We absolutely need improvements,” he said. “They have 10 years of shortchanging students to make up for. Everything I’ve seen so far is a big step back. Our intent is to send a strong message to government.”

The vote will take place between June 24-28, unless the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association make substantial progress before then, said DeGear. The current contract expires June 30. The two sides have been bargaining since March.

While teachers have not decided what type of job action they will take, it could be anything from wearing the same T-shirt to school on the first day, to refusing to do administrative duties or attend meetings.

Hugh Finlayson, employers’ association CEO, said the group is concerned teachers are talking about a job action vote so early into bargaining – the two sides exchanged themes last week and proposals this week.

As for class size and composition demands, the Supreme Court gave the province up to a year to address deficiencies in the class size and composition legislation and the province is consulting with the union to determine how this will be done, he said.

“You’ve almost got two parallel tracks of activities,” said Finlayson. “It may be that the two exercises cross over, but they’re on very different timelines at this point. You can’t really bargain the unknown.”

He said the whole public sector is under a “net zero mandate”, or wage freeze, so increases to salaries and benefits can only be achieved if it doesn’t cost the province any additional money.

There is already a split of issues between local and provincial tables, Finlayson added, and the employers’ association is not interested in returning to the former local bargaining model, which was replaced to reduce inefficiencies.

As for bargaining at the local table, DeGear said not much progress has been made to date, although the union feels like its suggestions are being heard and both parties have agreed to one minor item regarding the internal mail service.

The union plans to table some issues that are under the provincial bargaining mandate, he said, because it believes these issues should be discussed at the local level.

Secretary-treasurer Phil Turin said the district has no authority to bargain provincial issues and the union has been informed of this.

“At the end of the day, we will agree to disagree about some items,” he said. “We’re plodding along. We are definitely listening.”