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Leak suggests major stumbling block between B.C. teachers, employer out of the way

Last Updated Oct 4, 2019 at 1:19 pm PST

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A major stumbling block between teachers and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association may be out of the way

A leak suggests the employer is no longer asking for concessions on class size and composition

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A leak from the bargaining table suggests a major stumbling block between B.C. teachers and their employer may be out of the way.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association are in the midst of negotiations after a six-year agreement expired in June.

“Neither parties are formally talking about what’s happening at the table, but there was, what appears to be, a leak yesterday from the employer’s side that posted its latest proposal, which has taken off provisions around class size and composition that had been regarded as concessions by the teachers’ side of the table on that,” Patti Bacchus, a former chair of the Vancouver School Board and a current education columnist, explains.

The leak was apparently posted on the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association website, but later pulled.

Teri Mooring with the BCTF says it is “disappointing” the BCPSEA violated the media blackout.

“The BCTF will be respecting the mediator’s instructions that specific details not be discussed publicly,” she says in a statement, adding it will continue to participate in the mediation process.

“We continue our efforts to get a good deal for teachers that also supports our students. That means finding solutions to our low wages that are hampering recruitment and retention efforts in the middle of teacher shortage as well as improvements to student learning conditions,” she says.

Bacchus says class size and composition has been a “real sticking point” for the government side.

“[The government side] is now offering to, pretty much, roll over the contracts as they are with an increase of two per cent a year over three year contracts, which is what other public sector unions have been getting,” Bacchus explains.

Teachers have also been fighting for higher wages. While she’s unsure of details around the employers’ association’s request to the mediator, Bacchus says things have not been easy for instructors, who returned to class last month without a contract in place.

“Teachers have been kind of boxed in,” she says. “The government has set a bargaining mandate of two per cent a year, over three years going in … What happens is that still keeps [B.C.] teachers at almost the lowest salaries in Canada. They’re way behind other provinces — I think there may be one of the provinces that pays teachers less.”

The two per cent increase per year doesn’t even match the rate of inflation, and Bacchus believes low wages, in part, puts B.C. “way behind” other provinces. That, she says, makes it hard to recruit teachers to work in B.C. — something that’s also impacted by high rents.

“They, I imagine, are working to get some other tweaks to their salary grids, perhaps, so that it’s possible for teachers who have been working a long time to get to a higher step in the salary grid,” she says. “Or that they’ll shorten the process for reaching the top of the grid so teachers can get their maximum salaries sooner.

“There’s got to be some other tweaks in there to make this even remotely palatable to the members of the BCTF,” Bacchus says of the contract.