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.