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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

What’s next in bargaining?

by Irene Lanzinger

Fall 2005, teachers took a courageous and dramatic stand in defense of our bargaining rights. We had three goals: restoring the stripped language in our agreement, ensuring full, free collective bargaining rights for teachers, and securing a fair and reasonable salary increase. We have since incorporated our long-standing goal of gaining recognition of the professional rights of teachers.

Our strong and united action garnered the support of other unions, parents, and the public. In spite of the success of our action we still have a long way to go to achieve our goals. The challenge facing us now is to build on the momentum and support we had during our job action and carry that forward into the next round of bargaining. Teachers have made it very clear that classroom conditions, fair compensation, and teachers’ rights must be addressed.

To that end, delegates to the Annual General Meeting in March will devote a significant amount of time shaping the next round of bargaining. The AGM involves about 700 teachers from around the province. It is the largest group of teachers that gathers to make decisions for the BCTF. After the wonderful, spirited engagement of our members on the picket lines and at rallies throughout October, it is appropriate that we involve as many teachers as possible in the discussion of the goals, objectives, and strategy for carrying on the struggle to regain our rights and improve conditions in classrooms.

How does the Vince Ready Industrial Inquiry Commission of teacher bargaining structures fit in? Ready was appointed to come up with recommendations regarding changes to the bargaining structure. All the parties agree that the current model has not been a successful one. Ready’s deadline was January 31, 2006. The report he issued at that time concluded that because of the complexity of the task, it will take more time and resources than he had first anticipated. See our submission at bctf.ca/bargain/negotiations/iic/BCTF-submission.html.

Once Ready makes recommendations, the government may take some time to decide on its response to those recommendations. Teachers cannot wait for the outcome of the Ready recommendations on bargaining structure. We are determined to address the issues of class size, composition, and the support of specialist teachers before the next school year begins. Also, an alarming wage gap is developing between BC and other provinces. BC teachers have gone long enough without a wage increase that allows them to keep pace with the cost of living and with the wages of our colleagues in Alberta and Ontario.

In the area of preparation time, BC teachers are also falling behind. Secondary teachers in Ontario have double the preparation time of BC teachers. By 2008, elementary teachers in Ontario will have 200 minutes of preparation time a week. The average amount of preparation time for elementary teachers in BC is currently about 90 minutes.

The direction from both the Executive Committee and the Representative Assembly is that we should press ahead. We will serve notice on March 1 of our intention to open bargaining. The BCTF is calling for applications for a bargaining team. That team will be appointed before the AGM and be introduced to the delegates there. Those delegates will debate and decide on our goals, objectives, and strategy for the next round. We will have the difficult discussion about what actions to take if we do not achieve our goals at the table or if we again face legislation that is detrimental to students, teachers, and public education.

Our students’ needs are greater than ever and our ability to meet those needs must be addressed through improved conditions in our classrooms. We have clearly demonstrated our determination to attain those improvements and to achieve our goals. Whatever we face in terms of bargaining structure or responses at the bargaining table, no one can doubt the unity, strength, and determination of BC teachers. That unity of purpose and commitment to public education has always been the key to success in raising our issues and achieving our goals. The upcoming round of bargaining will be no different.

Irene Lanzinger is the BCTF’s first vice-president.

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