Congratulations Teachers, I Think

The resolution of any collective bargaining conflict is difficult to evaluate until the dust settles, but there are some things we know already. (no pun intended)

Clearly, teachers folded on wages. 7.25% over six years is a ridiculous, six year, annual pay cut, no matter how one slices it –it’s 4% under the estimated cost of living increases over the term of the contract – sorry nurses.

But did teachers get anything in return?

Well, they got E80 turfed. True, E80 was a bit of a throw away for the government, but at least the Supreme Court appeal will go on, although there is reason to be concerned about the “reopener clause” in the tentative agreement.

Teachers got upwards of $3500 per teacher signing bonus, disguised as a 108 million grievance mitigation.That’s new money, but it is a sleight of hand which gives up almost 2 billion in possible grievances from teachers who have been teaching too many kids and too many designated kids since the 2002 contract stripping.

Solving the innumerable grievances arising from the twelve-year period since 2002 is a mind bogglingly messy prospect. But the contract strippers should be the ones responsible for unraveling the nightmare; not the teachers, who had their contracts stripped in the first place. They should not dismiss it cheaply.

Teachers got a few more shekels for class size and composition, an extra 100 million over the term of the contract. That’s new money too though not enough. Four or five more teachers per year hired in Coquitlam? Coquitlam cut ninety plus teachers this year alone. The money can’t possibly address the needs of special needs students. The “fund” in its latest iteration is a cheap out for the government.

Still, that’s $208 million dollars of new money from a government who, for 18 months could out miser Ebeneezer Scrooge. And that doesn’t include some  of  the medical and dental benefit tops ups  won as well as some other benefits to be made more clear as we move forward.

So , given the circumstances, teachers did make gains beyond what they would have got through back to work legislation.

So the government gets to wave  the “affordability zone” circle  at the public and the nurses, while teachers get to sneak $200 plus million out the back door, half for a signing bonus which the government doesn’t have to call a signing bonus, and half to bandaid  class size and composition.

We don’t have all the details of the agreement yet, but while the teachers I have spoken to are relieved, they aren’t as elated as one would think they might be.

They fell a bit cheated – gratified at having hung together, but frustrated that some people, including some hapless Liberal M.L.A.s, have come out from hiding under their bed, to hail the agreement as fair but affordable – it’s neither.

And while some teachers I know feel some ambivalence toward what they know about the tentative settlement, almost all the teachers I know could barely watch Christy Clark’s press conference today.

It was a bit like watching Pontius Pilate hailing a new era of improved relations with Christians.

The irony screamed to teachers. “ A new era in government /teacher relations?”.!

If anything came out of this strike, the depth of the government’s determination to punish teachers was top among them. There can be no resurrection of the relationship between this government and teachers without:

  • a public commitment to public education. Not just words, but sustained, substantive action.
  • a willingness to commit money to public education. There hasn’t been a real increase in public education funding since 2002. (small annual per pupil funding increases are immediately gobbled up by M.S.P. download expenses, Hydro increases, carbon offsets, unfunded CUPE salaries , and other fixed costs).
  • At least equal funding increases between private and public schools.
  • A recognition of teachers as professionals and a concomitant catch up salary plan.
  • An indication that educators might make educational decisions, like doctors make medical decisions and lawyers make legal decisions.

And teachers have learned a few things from this strike:

  • They’ve learned the depths of the government’s disdain for public school and teachers.
  • They’ve learned that they often can’t count on the media for much help.
  • They’ve learned they ‘ll never make back the money they lost.
  • They’ve learned that striking is no fun.

But teachers have also made some immeasurable esprit de corps gains out of the dispute.

As a part of his strike post mortem, Vaughan Palmer mused that teachers will think long and hard before striking again. What he didn’t choose to muse is that B.C. governments will, in future, think twice before attacking teachers in such an extended, disrespectful manner.

Thank you teachers, for your steadfast defense of B.C.’s public education system. You have lost lots, but you have gained lots too.

The struggle to defend public education is not over, though this battle is spent.

Although it will be a relief for teachers to be able to sleep again, this ugly, ugly strike will serve to make  the inadequacies in the system more stark to returning teachers.

Resources, staffing, and funding will still be sparse, class size won’t change and class composition will carry on much the same as before. And as schools face another three years of education funding freezes, things will get worse before they’ll get better.

But teachers , through this job action, have focussed public discussion on education and exposed government intransigence and petulance. More important, they have solidified a vision of public education and shared an evangelism they now feel more strongly and unshakeably.

That said, some teachers are considering voting “no” on Thursday, not as a reflection of the work of  B.C.T.F negotiators, but as a statement of protest over what can only be described as a twelve-year vendetta against teachers and public schools.

Ratification of this tentative agreement will happen; should happen. It’s time to stop, get some money in the bank, get back to the kids who need and appreciate you, and live to struggle another day.

The public is done, not willing to hear any more rhetoric about underfunded schools or teachers for a while.

But  maybe 60% ratification might be  better than 95% ratification.

About jimnelson806

Educational consultant from Port Moody. "The Stuff Isn't What's Important" " School Wide Discipline Programmes Don't Work" " Vice Principals are crucial towards setting direction"
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9 Responses to Congratulations Teachers, I Think

  1. Christine Knight (Cederberg) says:

    Jim, I have been reading your blogs and really appreciating your wisdom and knowledge about the strike and about teaching. It’s good to see your face after so many years too. I hope you are doing well.


  2. Lindy says:

    Not a proud day to be a British Columbian. What a BCTF serving strike!

    Sadly, all efforts have amounted in nothing substantial for special needs kids and class size at all. These were the front face issues and the ones that all reasonable parents were glad to support. Now there will be no significant improvement in working conditions for teachers and in learning possibilities for students. We can see that in the end it’s all about keeping peace with concessions toward improved income and a payout to the BCTF.

    Good role modeling for kids by the way: forgo your responsibility to go to work every day out of deep seated principles and be paid, if you’re lucky, a bonus to go back- principles unfulfilled. What was gained as a society moving forward? Not much! I feel sorry for teachers who had sacrificed June and Sept for the issues of class size and composition…that is, learning and working environments. Each school DISTRICT ( not individual school ) will gain only a handful of new teachers each year. It’ll be business as usual…with a cherry on top. The day to day task of teachers needing to teach DESPITE and students trying to learn DESPITE will go on and on.

    Congratulate yourself, Jim Iker. Well done. Getting the teachers back to work will mean paychecks from which to skim your own handsome portion from… Thanks, Christy Clark. Goal achieved: no raising taxes…no raising hopes for a better day in BC education, either.

    I have been proud to have been a homeschool mom this month for grades 5, 8 and 10. Our kids have worked hard and responsibly and I just can’t share in the “oh, good, get them back to school now” attitude of most parents. Our kids have been so good.


    • Andy says:

      Thanks, Lindy. I’d like to let you know I’ve heard you very clearly. I, too, was angry that the BCTF had taken on the government over class size and composition. I teach senior academics courses that are mostly unaffected by problems with either. I’m sorry I bled money for a few months and was on the losing end. Perhaps our strike would have been more believable if I had lost my house as well. Maybe a better question you should ask yourself is why 40,000+ teachers were forced to advocate for these issues in the first place. Isn’t that your job and the government’s, to ensure the best possible learning environment / opportunities for your children? In the future my dream is that the BCTF transitions to a more traditional union, one concerned with a tighter mandate that does actually put more money in my pocket. Oh, wait a second: falling further behind the rate of inflation, being some of the worst paid teachers in the country with the least amount of prep time, and taking barbs from blind parents worshipping at the altar of Christy’s kleptocracy for the last decade was already the result of a self-serving BCTF.

      I’ve never met Jim Iker, but from what I’ve heard, the man is honourable to a fault. Impugning his character is a garbage move unless you have something concrete proving otherwise.


      • Lindy says:

        Hello Andy- I respond here on the evening of the vote results: a wide yes to return to work Monday AM, accepting the terms/conditions/offerings of the now officialised agreement. SIGH….

        I will back track and introduce myself as you did in your entry: though not at the present time working in a public school, I like you, am a BC licenced teacher and I happen to be married to a public school educator. As an experienced teacher and parent volunteer with 3 kids in public schools and as someone with close friendships to public school teachers, I have never been less than conversant in all manner of issues in present day education and supportive and encouraging to the school personnel that have served our 3 children so well . So your good point about British Columbians collectively needing to stand with, even for teachers, in helping to improve our schools is well taken. In my life ( and in so many of the great parents at my children’s schools ) that is being acted upon. Be assured, Andy!

        What I have written has not been written lightly, off the cuff or with any desire for Jim Iker character assassination. The facts simply speak for themselves and the following is concrete enough for me: the BCTF leadership , like our provincial government, right or wrong, have, as do all organizations, funds to appropriate and a budget to maintain. The agreement Iker and team accepted has minimal ( dare I say insultingly few ) improvements of any significant benefit to individual teachers and students and even schools. The BCTF essentially failed the 45, 000 strong membership they are in existence to serve in terms of class size and composition ( the unbending key public face issues which all were behind ), eager to accept a huge sum of funding for their own interests, priorities and litigations. I am left to wonder about the efficacy of the BCTF; perhaps the day and age of the BCTF as an effective voice and body of activism for educators has been and gone……Is there a such thing as retiring not only people, but whole institutions?

        You mentioned a dream for a different day ahead for the BCTF. I would love to dream an even bolder dream: a day when teachers are no longer subject to the pushes and pulls of union leadership or those of the government, but can have the freedom to conduct themselves as professionals worthy of strong working conditions where success is within reach for every student, family unit and educator alike.


  3. Dale Martell says:

    I think what people often forget is that when you become a union rep at any level you are still first and foremost a teacher.If I were to direct any criticism during this dispute it would be towards the Principals and Vice Principals(our in house educational leaders) who,though they may have supported their own staffs during the strike/lockout , were noticeably absent from any public debate .


  4. G. Barry Stewart says:

    “disguised as a 108 million grievance mitigation.”

    It’s sad that the people who had already retired will get none of this mitigation… which you have pointed out is actually a signing bonus with a different wrapper. I know of one teacher who quit before her time, as the illegal class composition issues were wearing her down. (I know her story is not unique.) She got a reduced pension as a result — and will receive none of this pay-out.


  5. jimnelson806 says:

    Good point Barry. I guess I can understand that solving all the grievances that accrued over the past twelve years might be daunting and that a signing bonus that the government doesn’t have to call a signing bonus is a clever way for each side to save a bit of face.
    Tough one for your friend, who’s retired life may be affected – and what about those off on leave,
    newly retired, and those who changed careers?
    Come to think of it why don’t you and I get a cut, having retired fewer than 12 years ago, when the grievance(s) began?
    It’s messy, no question, but it would probably never have been resolved any other way.


  6. G. Barry Stewart says:

    Good news for me — and others who were on the line in June, before retiring: there will be a payment of some kind, TBA. No retro pay, though, as 2013-14 was another 0% increase.


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