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Monday, September 15, 2014

BCTF vs. BC Liberals: Why Neither Side Has Been Reasonable So Far

The ongoing negotiating blitz is cause for optimism, but up until the parties got together for the current round, neither was being reasonable. (Of course, due to the media blackout, we don't know if either is currently being reasonable.) Here are the main problem areas:

- The court ruled that the teachers have a right to bargain over class size and composition. The government's interpretation of "bargain"? "Accept our offer, which merely asserts the current illegally imposed language." It's not surprising that the BCTF views this as a slap in the face.

- The court ruled that the teachers have a right to bargain over class size and composition. Because the 1998 language was the last negotiated language, it got retroactively inserted into past contracts. But the court never ruled that the teachers had the right to keep the 1998 language in future contracts, and in fact explicitly expressed an expectation that class size and composition would be subject to future bargaining. Despite that, BCTF's binding arbitration proposal seeks to avoid bargaining on these issues. Why? If it wins on appeal, the court might decide to insert the 1998 language not only into past contracts, but also into the 2013-2018/9 contract. BCTF is therefore attempting to circumvent the bargaining process and set education policy for the province without the input of BC's duly elected government.
- BCTF demands a $5,000 bonus after going on strike for a month. 'Nuff said.

I have to say that both sides' wage and benefits offers are reasonable. The government's sub-inflation 7% over 6 years offer is obviously stingy, but given the other settlements so far and the massive surplus of teachers (note that there's a surplus even in Ontario, where class sizes are quite small), this is a good-faith offer. Meanwhile, the teachers' demand of 8% over 5 years, which may not even outpace inflation, is obviously modest. It's true that their benefit demands (equivalent to a further 4% increase in compensation) are somewhat expensive, but as far as bargaining tactics go, these proposals are not outlandish and probably just there as bargaining chips.

Sidenote: While there's a surplus of teachers in BC, our teachers are indeed paid less than teachers west of Québec. How can this be? Simple: other provinces, like Ontario, are grossly overpaying their teachers, to the point that a 35-year-old teacher is likely to make as much as a 35-year-old professor. (Professors' wages have more room to grow after that, but they had to give up several years of pay to earn their Ph.D.)

It looks like the following need to occur for a settlement to happen (some of these are from my post from August 31):

1. BCTF needs to accept language on class size and composition that is not as good as what they were given by the NDP in 1998. They need to realize that a right to bargain is very different from a right to keep copy past clauses and paste them in future agreements. Imagine if the government wanted to roll their nominal wages back to 1998 levels!

2. The government needs to make concessions on class size and composition. Their E80 proposal can't be a mere statement of what they illegally legislated. This can come in the form of a meaningful increase to the LIF (not just the $15 million increase in the latest public proposal), or specific language on class size and composition. As I've explained in a previous post, research shows that class size reduction is best targeted at lower grade levels (K-3).

3. BCTF needs to drop their bonus demand. I certainly don't see the government giving more than the $1,200 on offer in June. In fact, the government may well feel that any bonus would send the wrong signal and encourage future strikes.

If they get past these obstacles, I think they can come together on wages and benefits. As detailed in my August 31 post, the government is offering $350M over 5 years, while BCTF is demanding $600M over 5 years in wages, $150M in signing bonus, and $125M per year in benefits. Perhaps the sides can agree on something around $600M over 5 years in total compensation, which equates to about 1.3% per year, or 0% in Year 1 and 2% in each of Years 2-5.

Or at least, once they settle on class size and composition, the government might be more receptive to binding arbitration - the risk to the budget from the court case would become much smaller (just grievances).

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