Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo Reporter
BURNABY – While parents prepare to send their kids back to school, the possibility of an education workers and possible teachers strike – the second in the last three school years – looms on the horizon.
As of Aug. 13, negotiations between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) education workers and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) have broken off indefinitely.
CUPE represents education assistants, clerical staff, custodians, and bus drivers among other public education workers. Virtually all of the 57 CUPE local unions representing education workers have had positive strike votes.
CUPE education worker’s collective agreements throughout the province expired over a year ago. Settlement talks took place in April 2013, but were derailed when it became clear that government had not given BCPSEA a mandate to reach a settlement, CUPE says.
BCPSEA, now directly controlled by the provincial government, is in no position to bargain at the moment the union contested.
“They called us back to the table. We were ready, they were not,” said Colin Pawson, Chair of the CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council.
“As a result, there is a danger that classes will be disrupted this fall. Our committee set aside nearly two weeks to bargain, and we came to the table with ideas for cost savings. The only thing missing was a committed bargaining agent on the employer’s side.”
The Ministry of Education released a statement earlier this month chief negotiator Peter Cameron, who said all sides were willing to work toward a provincial framework agreement that would have to circle around finding savings to finance the wage increases the teachers want.
CUPE representatives emphasize that a fully funded wage increase is the solution to ending the bargaining impasse.
“If government doesn’t show a commitment to bargaining, our members will take full scale job action,” Pawson said. “They’re frustrated that we’ve had three false starts to negotiating and the clock is ticking.”
Teachers Begin Negotiations in September
As for negotiations between the teachers and the province, Premier Christy Clark has made a 10-year agreement with teachers a priority as she seeks to fulfill an election pledge to bring peace to the province’s school system.
What the government calls an “historic” agreement is tarnished by the fact that it designed the plan with very little consultation from teachers, Peace River South Teachers Association President Lorraine Mackay said.
In an interview with the Chetwynd Echo earlier this year, Mackay also raised concerns that a ten-year agreement may not be a good thing for teachers in the South Peace.
“This is something that the government came up with and we had very little discussion or input about it so that’s one of our very first concerns,” she said.
“A ten-year agreement is very unusual with labour because you can’t anticipate what’s going to be happening ten-years down the road, you have no idea what the economic situation will be.”
Negotiations between British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the government will begin in September.
They could be helped along by an announcement earlier this month from education minister Peter Fassbender that proposed giving the teachers the right to engage in a full-scale strike –closing the doors to schools completely – which the BCTF lost when the Liberal government came to power in 2001.
In a letter to school board chairs, minister Fassbender said the changes will reflect “innovations”, including allowing teachers to negotiate directly with the government.