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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Our fees pay for the services members want

by Jinny Sims

At the upcoming 2006 Annual General Meeting, delegates are being asked to vote on what the BCTF fee should be for 2006–07. For the first time in over 15 years, delegates will be considering a recommendation to increase the percentage of their salary that they pay to finance the general operations of the BCTF from 1.38% to 1.42%.

The fee increase of 0.04% will mean an increase of $24.48 (tax deductible) per member per year on an average salary. The Executive Committee is also recommending to the AGM a reduction in the Salary Indemnity Plan fee from 2.0% to 1.7% because of an improvement in investment income. This will be a reduction in fee on an average salary of $183.60 (after taxes) per year. Taken together, if both recommendations pass the AGM, a member with an average salary will have a reduction in overall fees she or he pays to the BCTF of approximately $159.12.

The obvious question is why the increase in the operating fee? The purpose of my writing this article is to explain why and to provide members with some background information.

By way of a little history on the issue of the BCTF fee, it was in 1983 that an annual meeting changed the fee from a dollar amount to a percentage of salary. This procedure was implemented for two very important reasons. First, it meant that members paid a differentiated fee based upon their salary, and second, a percentage fee would result in increased revenues as teacher salaries increased and as the number of FTE teachers working in the province increased.

In 1990, the fee was increased from 1.25% of salary to 1.35%. There were significant reasons to do so, most notably the costs of local bargaining and contract enforcement and the establishment of a Collective Bargaining Defence Fund to support the locals that chose to take strike action to resolve their collective agreement disputes. In 1998, the fee was adjusted to 1.38% to compensate for the elimination of a $15 per member charge that locals paid to the Federation for grievance arbitration costs.

There are three areas of service that the BCTF has increased significantly over the last decade.

We have expanded our rehabilitation services that are part of our Salary Indemnity Plan to include almost every school district. This requires significant resources to counsel and support members wishing to return to work from long-term disability leave. We have also built an excellent health and safety program that includes lay and legal support to members dealing with WCB appeals. We have also increased the legal services we provide to members as a result of investigations and complaints by the College of Teachers.

In 2002, the government stripped our collective agreement and imposed terms and conditions of employment including salary levels that were far from adequate. The result was a major loss of teaching positions and a serious decline in Federation revenues. At the same time, fixed costs in the operation of the BCTF increased without reference to our reduced revenues. AGM decisions, such as adding local presidents to the Representative Assembly and expanding the number of members who participate in zone meetings, coupled with systemic increases to benefit costs beyond the control of the Federation, created a budgeting nightmare. The Executive Committee responded by reducing program budgets and cutting the staff working for the BCTF. Since 2002, we have reduced the number of staff by over 10%. This has made it more difficult to maintain the programs and services members have demanded through their decision-making bodies.

If we do not increase the percentage of our fee at this AGM, we will be faced with making serious reductions in services. We cannot cut our budgets any more without considering the elimination of entire programs. And while some members feel this program or that program is more important than something else, there are other members who feel the opposite. One of our strengths as an organization has been to serve all members well and we should continue to do that. The fee increase is necessary to maintain the status quo on the reduced basis that the last four years of budget cuts have created. I find it difficult to imagine the organizational consequences of having to cut programs further.

We are in the midst of a major struggle with government to achieve better classroom conditions and improved salaries. We cannot afford to turn inward and fight each other about what services we should eliminate from our union. We made a huge statement to government and the public last fall about our needs and our priorities. We have to remain united in our efforts to achieve those goals this spring. That is why I am urging you to support the fee increase recommendation at the AGM.

The Executive Committee and the Representative Assembly are both recommending a fee increase in the general operating fund to the Annual General Meeting. It is one of many important decisions that delegates will make that will affect the future of our organization and the future of our profession.

Jinny Sims is the BCTF president.

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