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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 3, November/December 2005

We are the BCTF

by Jinny Sims

When teachers on picket lines during our recent political protest against Bill 12 were approached by media for comments on the action, they were consistent in their responses. Teachers needed improvements in their classroom conditions and a fair and reasonable salary increase. And we also needed our bargaining rights restored. A member on the lines was asked by a TV reporter what she thought of the BCTF’s continuation of the job action. Her response was "I am the BCTF." That response spoke to one of the reasons our action was so successful. It is not possible to separate teachers from their union. Members decided what they would do at every critical juncture of the action through member votes; and that helped build the unity we experienced.

Our action was strongly endorsed by teachers in all parts of the province, and it quickly engendered widespread parent and public support. When the government legislatively imposed terms and conditions of our employment through Bill 12, they underestimated both teacher resolve and the extent to which our issues would resonate with the public. By taking the actions we did, we served notice to this government that we will not accept unilaterally imposed conditions of employment. We want a return to free collective bargaining where those conditions are determined through a process of negotiation. We fought back in a formidable way by refusing to respect the unjust law that government used to diminish our rights. And we had the important support of the BC Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local labour councils, and other unions. Our struggle to bargain became an issue for the entire trade-union movement; union leaders understood this; rank-and-file trade unionists understood this. Our teacher colleagues in every other province and territory in Canada understood this too and their organizations came forward to support us.

An important victory of our action was in the area of classroom conditions. In September, government was saying there were no problems in our schools, that they were well-funded and achievement results showed everything was fine. By the end of the action, we had a Learning Round Table with a tacit public commitment from government to make changes to The School Act that provide class-size maximums in all grades and put in place class-composition provisions that improve learning opportunities for all students. We will work to sustain that public support through the work of the Learning Round Table and into the spring session of the legislature to ensure that government delivers in this critical area of learning conditions improvements.

The Executive Committee, the bargaining team, and staff are working on the implementation of the Ready recommendations. This includes getting dollars into member pockets from the $40 million allocation to the BCTF LTD/SIP contained in the recommendations as soon as possible. This provision along with the $40 million for grid harmonization essentially broke the zero/zero mandate from government that gave cause to much of this dispute. The improved pay and seniority provisions for teachers on call will help give tangible recognition to the role these members play in our schools. We asked government to ensure that teacher locals are involved in negotiations with their school boards to determine the allocation of their district’s share of the $20 million for improved learning conditions in this school year.

The BCTF Fall Representative Assembly adopted an important action plan to continue the campaign for improved classroom conditions, restoration of bargaining rights, and a fair and reasonable salary increase for all teachers. The plan includes actions by the BCTF, by locals, by PSAs, and by school staffs. It is an important plan that keeps the momentum going into the next round of bargaining, which begins in March of this year, so we can build on what we did this fall and move closer to the full achievement of our goals. The plan provides opportunities for each and every member to be involved. I urge you to participate in discussing the plan in your local and to become involved in its implementation.

We built a lot of support provincially and in every community during our protest and it is important that we keep working with parents, labour, and others in the community who are committed to improvements in public schools. We need to continue to recognize that we have each other. This protest action helped a lot of teachers new to the profession understand the importance of the union and the importance of standing together. As long as we are clear on our goals, as long as we make decisions together, and as long as we advocate for a well-funded and healthy public education system, we will be strong and we will maintain public support. We all took an important and decisive action together. I hope that you will all be a continuing part of the ongoing initiatives that we can take together to improve our students’ learning conditions and our working conditions, to restore our bargaining rights, and to ensure that all of us have a salary commensurate to the roles and responsibilities we take on every day in the public schools of this province.

Jinny Sims is president of the BCTF.

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