Bill 22 doesn't solve long-standing problems
By Geoff Johnson, Times Colonist March 9, 2012
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Teachers who take the time to read Bill 22, the government's Education Improvement Act that will inevitably pass into law within days, must surely be wondering why they just gave up three days' pay, annoyed parents and sent the kids home.
Bill 22 basically says that the game is over, the final score is in the books, the stadium lights are out and the spectators have gone home. Continuing to kick the ball up and down the field will change nothing.
Worse, there is nothing fair about Bill 22 and nothing that addresses or even recognizes the issues which have plagued public education, teachers, their union and everybody involved.
Bill 22 brings more than a year of non-negotiation between the government and the British Columbia Teachers' Federation to a Schadenfreude "not only must I win but you must know you lost" ending.
The legislation abjures collective bargaining in the public education sector. It instructs that "the parties must continue or commence to bargain collectively in good faith" and then almost in the same sentence insists that "the new collective agreement must not create new costs that would result in a net increase in the annual cost of the collective agreement from the total annual cost of the last collective agreement."
Time and lawyers will tell us what that actually means or if it indicates a loophole, given that the last collective agreement paid for more teachers than a declining student population currently requires.
Either way, it smacks of Lewis Carroll's conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty;
" 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
''The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' "
Nor did boards of education win much. Bill 22 also states that "the new collective agreement is to include additional matters that may be locally negotiated between the BCTF and a board of education if those matters do not affect any other school district, and would, in the opinion of the mediator, be more effectively negotiated as local matters."
More legislation through the looking glass, given that we don't know what that means either, but if it means that the system returns to the practice of local boards trying to negotiate individually with the highly co-ordinated, strictly disciplined and wellprepared BCTF, we will once again be treated to the spectacle of a good ol' hockey game between the Pouce Coupe
Over-40s and the Canucks with the result never in doubt.
The clincher, and this pretty much tells us the game really is over, is the section that basically says that if a mediator appointed by the minister finds that by June 30, there remain "any outstanding issues that remain in dispute between the parties," he/she is to report this to the minister who then, presumably, locks up the stadium until it is time to play again, maybe in 2013.
There are significant fines for noncompliance. Individual employees can be fined a daily $475, officers of the BCTF $2,500, the BCTF itself $1.3 million per day and BCPSEA similar amounts. (This would see the government fining itself, I guess.)
Despite all of the above, the biggest loss for the BCTF may be in revisions that basically seem to trample unrestricted over two carved-in-stone aspects of the old agreement: the role of seniority in teacher selection and the issue of class size and composition.
Try as it might, and it will, the BCTF is going to have to work awfully hard to spin this one as any kind of step forward on behalf of its members. That is too bad, because if there ever was a time when public education needed a workable progressive alliance between government and its teachers, that time is now.
Government has acted unfairly towards the province's teachers and the BCTF has been obdurate in its inability to negotiate a better deal for its members.
In the meantime, public education, which should be moving ahead into the 21st century, progresses only because of the imagination of individual teachers in classrooms.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
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B.C. teachers' contract bill set to become law
The Canadian Press
Posted: Mar 15, 2012 11:55 AM PT
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2012 5:57 AM PT
British Columbia politicians voted Thursday to put an end to the government's long-running contract dispute with the province's teachers, which has seen educators scale back their work for months and culminated in a full-scale walkout last week.
The Liberal-dominated legislature voted 43-31 to pass Bill 22, which bans further walkouts, forces teachers to resume their normal duties, imposes a six-month "cooling-off" period, and then sends the contract dispute to mediation.
The bill is expected to get royal assent and will be law by Saturday, Abbott said.
The controversial back-to-work legislation may put an end to the teachers' ongoing strike action, but appears likely to only inflame the province's poor relationship with its 41,000 teachers, which has seen the government step in to end nearly every set of contract negotiations in the past two decades.
'I think Bill 22 has actually heated things up rather than cooled them off.'—BCTF vice-president Jim IkerEducation Minister George Abbott expressed hope the two sides could reach a mediated settlement by the end of the summer, but Opposition New Democrat Robin Austin wasn't as optimistic.
The education critic said he expects the mediated talks to fail, with the government imposing a legislated contract on the teachers in September.
Abbott now claims a place in the long list of B.C. politicians from all political stripes who have failed to oversee successfully-negotiated collective agreements between the government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation.
Over the past 30 years, there has only been one successful contract. Abbott said that occurred in 2006, when teachers and the government signed a five-year deal that included a 16-per-cent wage increase and a signing bonus worth about $4,000 for each teacher.
"One of the things I had hoped to do when I started as an education minister was to move the dial at least somewhat in terms of the labour relations culture that exists between government and the BCTF, and the political culture that exists between the BCTF and government," Abbott said after the bill had passed.
"I can't say that I feel at this moment like we have moved that dial very much, if at all."
NDP calls bill 'cynical'
Austin called the legislation "cynical," saying it does nothing to improve education.
The legislation has also been panned by the teachers' union and other labour groups as an attack on workers' rights.
The union will move next to explore whether it has any legal options to challenge the bill. It already expects to take the province to court over a segment dealing with classroom size and composition, said Jim Iker, a union vice-president.
Union members will also discuss various avenues that might be employed to "resist" the legislation, he said, including whether they should withdraw voluntary supervision of extracurricular activities.
The B.C. government's back-to-work legislation is expected to go into effect on Saturday. (Canadian Press)
"I think Bill 22 has actually heated things up rather than cooled them off," Iker said in an interview.
Earlier in the day, Education Minister George Abbott invited the union to work with him to appoint the mediator who will take over the negotiation process.
"The mediator we'll put in place will be of unquestioned stature and impeccable credentials, both from an educational and from a conflict resolution perspective."
Iker said the union has already discussed a name and agreed forwarding its suggestions could be "advantageous." But he questioned the likelihood of a true resolution, noting the mediator must still work in the confines of the province's terms.
"It's not a very fair process that we're being put into," he said. "I'm not sure if a mediator with any kind of experience and stature is willing to put themselves into that situation."
'Net zero' sticking point
The government has already said any mediated settlement must abide by the province's so-called "net zero" mandate, which stipulates that new public-sector contracts must not cost the government any additional money. That means any gains, such as increased wages, must be offset my concessions elsewhere.
The teachers started a limited strike in September as part of a dispute that centres largely around the teachers' demand for a 15-per-cent wage hike, as well as other changes to classroom conditions.
Because teachers are considered an essential service, their job action has been limited to skipping administrative tasks, such as filling out report cards. Earlier this month, the teachers won the labour board's approval for a full-scale walkout, which happened over three days last week.
Teachers have been without a contract since last June, and a government appointed fact-finder concluded earlier this year that there was little hope the two sides could negotiate a settlement on their own.
"The fundamental differences are still there," agreed Fiona McQuarrie, an instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley's school of business.
"They'll continue to be there as long as teachers want the working conditions they want and government is reluctant to pay that."
The legislation also sets out fines, should the teachers or their employer break the rules. The back-to-work law also says a B.C. Supreme Court ruling around classroom size and composition won't be tackled until the next round of negotiations in the summer of 2013.
Abbott has conceded he expects that imposed delay to be challenged in court.
B.C. teachers prepared to discuss campaign of resistance to Bill 22
By Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun March 16, 2012
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Hundreds of teachers who are gathering in Vancouver this weekend for their union's annual general meeting are expected to huddle privately Sunday to craft a response to a B.C. Liberal bill they despise.
The bill, which will become law by Saturday, orders a six-month cooling-off period in a bitter contract dispute, but teachers have signalled that cooling off is not what they have in mind.
Instead, they're talking about a campaign of resistance, ranging from provincewide withdrawal from volunteer activities, such as coaching sports teams and helping with drama productions, to a wildcat walkout.
The B.C. Teachers' Federation executive spent long hours this week drafting proposals, which will be endorsed, rejected or amended in private by delegates attending the three-day meeting at the Hyatt Regency and later taken to the union membership for ratification.
Teachers say they must continue their fight against Bill 22 because of the deleterious effect it will have on working and learning conditions.
But in designing a plan, delegates must also think about the ramifications for students, schools and even their own union, given the bill's hefty fines for illegal strike activity and the fact that not all members want to quit extracurricular activities or work bell-to-bell.
They also risk alienating parents and losing more students to independent schools.
A number of union locals around the province have already decided to withdraw from extracurricular activities when schools reopen March 26 after spring break.
Once Bill 22 comes into effect, teachers will be required to halt their Phase 1 job action, which includes refusals to write report cards, attend staff meetings, supervise students outside of class, communicate with principals or do a number of jobs considered administrative.
That leaves the union with only limited protest options, said BCTF president Susan Lambert. "There is no doubt in the minds of our members that they must, as much as possible, resist this legislation," she told The Vancouver Sun. "If that's within our power, through the voluntary work that we do, then so be it. That's what I'm hearing from many of my members. So be it."
After Bill 22 passed Thursday, Education Minister George Abbott acknowledged teachers may withdraw from extracurricular activities.
"We treasure the fact that some teachers will give up their own time in order to coach hockey or soccer or basketball or volleyball and we celebrate the fact that they do that, but they make the decision as teachers," he said. "We can't demand it of teachers any more than we can demand it of lawyers and doctors or anyone else in the world."
Lambert will be hoping that she's reading her membership correctly because her leadership is also on the line. In her bid for a third and final one-year term at the helm, she is facing a challenge for the first time.
Rick Guenther, a former president of the Abbotsford Teachers' Association and a popular BCTF executive member-at-large who announced his plan to seek the presidency weeks ago, says Lambert and her party - which is called the Coalition and has led the union for more than a decade - bear some responsibility for the difficulties the BCTF now faces.
"The problems we have now are at least in part ... a result of one-party politics and the deep entrenchment that occurs when there's no challenge to the status quo," he said. "We are here [in the current situation] not just because of the malevolence of others but because of the positions that we've taken over the years."
Under the Coalition, the BCTF has decided the fight is more important than the outcome and "members have not benefited," he added.
This week, a little-known teacher from 100 Mile House, Chris Drouil-lard, also announced his candidacy for the top job.
While resistance to Bill 22 is expected to dominate the meeting, there are other controversial issues on the agenda for the more than 700 activist teachers who will interrupt their spring break for the intense debate that is the hallmark of BCTF annual meetings. Those issues will be discussed during portions of the meeting open to the public.
Two union locals have proposed future online voting for BCTF leaders and on major recommendations so that more members may participate. Other resolutions call for risk assessments for students with potentially dangerous behavioural issues; a two-week spring break for all public schools (some now only break for one week); a boycott of fees to the B.C. Teachers' Council to oppose government control over teacher regulation, and research to help teachers resist Liberal plans for education reform under the B.C. Education Plan.
firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: vancouversun.com/reportcard
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Teachers threatening to pull support for extracurricular activities
B.C. government passes Bill 22, ending teachers' ability to strike
By Rob Shaw, timescolonist.com March 15, 2012
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B.C.’s teachers are threatening to pull support for extracurricular activities as the provincial government brings into law a bill that ends their ability to strike.
The Liberal government used its majority in the legislature to pass Bill 22 Thursday, ending the teachers’ job action and imposing a cooling-off period that extends their current contract while removing a limit on the number of special-needs students in classrooms.
“It’s a sad day for teachers and teaching in B.C.,” said Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
The province’s 41,000 teachers “are determined to oppose this legislation,” and specific ideas will be discussed at an annual general meeting this weekend, she said.
One item up for debate is whether teachers should continue to volunteer for extracurricular activities, such as sports teams and drama clubs, which Bill 22 does not force teachers to participate in, said Lambert.
“For sure that one will be debated. I don’t know whether that will be something that will be part of a federation provincial plan or whether it will be left to local associations to debate themselves, but that’s certainly one.”
Bill 22 ends what teachers had called phase one of their job action, including their refusal to write report cards. It also imposes stiff fines if teachers try to strike. Teachers had walked off the job for three days earlier this month, an action approved by the Labour Relations Board.
Lambert said the legislation doesn’t affect voluntary activities such as after-school clubs, so that remains one of the few options left for teachers to show their displeasure with the government.
“It’s not something we want to do. A lot of the joy you get in teaching is through extracurricular activities. But when you have such limited options and when you’re facing such punitive fines, what else can you do to make sure you can continue to articulate the needs of your students?”
Education Minister George Abbott said the government can’t demand teachers perform extracurricular activities, although it appreciates the teachers who give their own time to coach teams outside school hours.
Bill 22’s passage came with one amendment, which changed the start date to Saturday, allowing one additional day of limited job action at school districts not on spring break today.
“I take no pleasure at all in being the latest in a long line of education ministers who have to utilize the legislature to move a dispute along with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation,” Abbott said.
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Liberals head off teachers with new bill to ban strike
BY MICHAEL SMYTH, POSTMEDIA NEWS FEBRUARY 28, 2012 7:24 PM
Vancouver teachers wave protest signs earlier this week as part of the B.C. Teachers Federation's "day of action."
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay , PNG
VICTORIA — Teachers were given the legal go-ahead to stage limited strike action in British Columbia schools Tuesday, only to have the government quickly table a bill in the legislature banning any strike and ordering a "cooling-off period."
The Education Improvement Act would "suspend" strike action by teachers, while sending their yearlong contract dispute to a mediator.
But the government said the mediator would have strict marching orders to settle the dispute under a "net-zero mandate," meaning no additional money would be put on the table. Any raise for teachers would have to be offset by concessions elsewhere in a new contract.
The government also said it would add $165 million into a Learning Improvement Fund over the next three years to help special-needs students, and allow teachers to once again bargain class-size and composition starting in 2013.
In the meantime, the government is ordering a "cooling-off period" until the end of August, suspending all strike and lockout activity during that period, while a mediator helps the two sides reach a deal. The teachers' existing expired contract would be extended during that period.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Labour Relations Board said Tuesday teachers can conduct a three-day strike, as long as they give parents a two-day advance warning. The B.C. Teachers Federation was busy conducting a strike vote by its members, as the union leadership asked for a "strong mandate" to walk off the job.
The fluid and fast-developing situation appeared to set up a race against time for both sides. The government would need at least three days to pass its bill into law, unless the governing-Liberals decided to invoke closure and ram it through more quickly. The opposition NDP might try to delay the bill with filibuster tactics.
The bill bans strike activity and includes financial penalties for staging an illegal walkout. Teachers who strike illegally would be subject to a $465-a-day fine, while the union would face a fine of $1.3 million a day.
Education Minister George Abbott said the government was acting to protect students and their parents from a strike, while bringing in a fair and reasonable process to achieve a negotiated settlement, despite the government's tight purse strings.
"We are hopeful that a mediator can help the parties achieve a negotiated agreement, in keeping with the more than 100 agreements already achieved under the government's bargaining mandate," Abbott said, adding the government wants parents to get spring report cards.
"We are not prepared to see a school year pass without every parent in B.C. getting a full accounting of how their children are progressing."
The BCTF's approximately 41,000 teachers have been without a contract since last June. Teachers began pressing their demands for a new deal last September by refusing to write report cards, meet with administrators or supervise playgrounds.
The teachers union seemed to be spoiling for a strike, but Abbott pleaded with teachers to stay on the job.
"We hope the teachers union will take a constructive approach and respect the cooling-off period," he said. "However, if they choose a different path, the legislation includes stiff financial consequences for illegal strike action."
© Copyright © The Province
B.C. teachers could walk out of classrooms Friday
BY IAN AUSTIN, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 28, 2012 COMMENTS (154
Counsellor Jim Edmondson was among the Vancouver teachers waving protest signs for traffic along East First Avenue Monday as part of the teachers' union "day of action."
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay , PNG
Teachers took to the street Monday as Education Minister George Abbott took to the airwaves with an education showdown looming.
Parents began scouting out alternative arrangements as the B.C. Teachers Federation applied with the Labour Relations Board to hold a limited walkout — which could happen as early as this Friday.
Abbott and BCTF president Susan Lambert ramped up the rhetoric and traded volleys on radio stations Monday as the public-relations war went into overdrive.
Teachers lined First Avenue in Vancouver to educate commuters about the long-simmering dispute, appearing to have the public’s ear based on the frequent honks of support.
“It’s encouraging. It really makes us feel good,” said Lord Nelson Elementary teacher Susan Russell, waving a handmade sign reading “Liberal Bullies!”
“Pink Day is coming,” said Russell, part of a large contingent gathered at the First Avenue corners at Nanaimo, Commercial and Victoria Drive. “The government wants to stop bullying, but they are bullies.”
Abbott — who has threatened to legislate a new contract for teachers — offered a small concession Monday to teachers, who have asked for a mediator to intervene before Abbott legislates a settlement.
“I do believe the assistance of a mediator could help in the resolution of some of the issues,” said Abbott, who told radio listeners his staff are in the process of writing legislation that would provide a one-sided solution to the dispute.
Other teachers rallied at the Agriplex in Surrey and at the legislature in Victoria as Lambert said a vote by teachers Tuesday and Wednesday will determine her union’s next move.
“We’re asking our colleagues to think about the next step in the collective bargaining process,” Lambert told The Province. “It’s a very tricky landscape with the minister threatening to impose legislation.
“The provincewide internal poll will ask teachers about their options, up to and including a full-scale withdrawal. We’re on strike now, but it would be an escalation.”
Jim Edmondson stood at the corner of First and Victoria Drive, and got plenty of loud response to his sign, “Honk because strong public education equals strong democracy.”
“It’s quite amazing the amount of support there is,” said Edmondson. “The public is behind the teachers.
“Public education is a cornerstone of democratic society.”
Where this week’s showdown will end is anyone’s guess. The B.C. Liberals could bring in legislation, but that would require debate in the legislature, so a settlement is unlikely before next week.
On Monday evening, the teachers’ union asked the LRB to allow teachers to walk out for eight days: four days per week, for two weeks.
Their employer, the B.C. Public School Employers Association, argued teachers should be allowed to pull their services for one day over a 10-day period, with two days’ notice. As an essential service, teachers must receive the go-ahead from the LRB to withdraw any services.
The LRB is expected to make its decision Tuesday morning.
Teachers will announce the results of their vote Wednesday night or Thursday, and potentially could walk out as early as Friday if the Labour Relations Board allows it.
If so, not only will parents need to scramble to find child care, but those who use childcare programs at public schools will need an alternative.
The Greater Vancouver YMCA, which hosts half of its childcare programs through public schools, is keeping a close eye on the teachers’ job action, childcare general manager Susan Low said.
“We’ll continue to operate until the conditions of the teachers’ job action don’t allow us to do so,” Low said.
Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, which runs a school-age daycare from Nootka Elementary, will be forced to close if teachers walk off the job, coordinator Val Dallas said.
“We obviously can’t cross the picket line,” she said.
B.C. legislation to remove teachers' right to strike
BCTF calls legislation 'the height of political cynicism'
B.C.'s 40,000 teachers have been granted the right to strike by the Labour Relations Board, but the government has introduced legislation that could take away that right and impose a six-month cooling-off period and a mediator to settle the contract dispute.
The rapidly developing situation has left many parents wondering whether they will have to scramble to arrange child care or time off work, as both sides jockey for position in a highly polarized dispute.
The legislation is expected to take to up to a week to pass in the legislature, meaning the teachers could legally exercise their right to strike in the meantime.
The province's Labour Relations Board ruled Tuesday afternoon that teachers can strike for three days in one week as part of their expanded job action, and then one day each subsequent week, though they must give two days notice before striking.
The strike ruling from the board came down just hours before the provincial government introduced its own legislation aimed at ending the dispute.
The legislation introduced by the government would not impose a new contract, but does include a cooling-off period that would end the current job action until Aug. 31, making the teachers' current job action and any future strikes illegal, once it has passed into law.
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert criticized the legislation Tuesday, saying Education Minister George Abbott should have waited for the mediation process to play out.
"We've been working very hard … to dissuade the government from legislating a collective agreement and we felt … that this is the worst possible outcome and yet, Minister Abbott has persisted."
The BCTF is expected to hold a strike vote on Wednesday and Thursday, meaning the earliest possible date for a strike may be next week.
The BCTF will not be allowed to set up picket lines, the board ruled. The board also said it will review its ruling on a weekly basis. The teachers required the board's ruling to strike legally because they have been designated as an essential service by the government.
Mediator appointed by legislation
The government legislation also puts in place harsh financial penalties for teachers, unions and union representatives who take illegal strike action during the cooling-off period.
- Teachers: $475 a day.
- Union reps: $2,500 a day.
- BCTF organization: $1.3 million a day.
"This act is the height of political cynicism. It's much more of a political act than it is an education act," Lambert said. "The punitive fines for contravention of the act are outrageous and a deliberate attempt to intimidate, bully and bludgeon."
Since September, teachers have been conducting a limited legal job action, which has included refusing to meet with administrators, supervise recess or fill out report cards.
The government legislation would impose a mediator who will report back with non-binding recommendations by June 30. If the parties fail to reach an agreement with the mediator, the government could in separate legislation impose a new contract.
The legislation also extends the current BCTF contract, which expired last June, through the cooling-off period.
Under the terms of the legislation introduced Tuesday afternoon, any settlement will have to meet the government's net-zero mandate, which essentially means the province is not prepared to consider any wage or benefit increases.
Lambert said the government killed the collective bargaining process with the bill.
"This act legislates the net-zero mandate for teachers and that will mean, just in terms of compensation alone, probably a cut of about $1,400 per year per teacher — so on the backs of the profession of teaching is the balancing of this government's budget."
The federation is asking for a 15 per cent wage increase over the three-year contract. They have been without a contract since June 2011.
Meanwhile, frustrated Metro Vancouver students have turned to Facebook in an attempt to organize a walkout on Friday afternoon.
According to postings on the social media site, some students are proposing to leave class an hour early on Friday to meet at the Vancouver Art Gallery for a rally.
Edited by believe in blue forever, 16 March 2012 - 04:54 PM.