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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 1, September 2006

Benefits of our new agreement

by Irene Lanzinger

The 2005–06 school year was definitely an eventful one for BC teachers—two strike votes, a two-week strike, court challenges, rulings and fines, ad campaigns, and lots of news coverage. It was a year that will go down in history. Teachers demonstrated an unprecedented degree of courage, strength, and unity as they defended rights that had been so sadly eroded over the past few years.

The result of the actions of teachers—the Ready recommendations and the negotiated settlement in June—will bring significant gains for teachers over the next five years.

Ready allocated 2% of teachers’ salary, or $40 million, for salary harmonization. The cost of the salary increase negotiated in June is 16% of teachers’ salary; this represents the basic increases of 2.5% for the first four years, 2.0% for the fifth year, the amount needed for increases of 2.5 to 3.0% to the top of the grid in 2008, and the 2.0% salary indemnity allowance. The resulting 18% is a good estimate of the average increase to teachers’ salaries and allowances as a result of the work we did together in the past year, though actual amounts will vary. Many teachers will have increases of more than 18% because they will benefit from harmonization.

Salary harmonization benefited districts that had lower salary scales. These lower salaries resulted from arbitration rulings in the 1980’s and differences in local bargaining between 1988 and 1993. The teachers who benefited least from harmonization were teachers paid at maximum salaries and teachers in isolated areas of the province who had higher salaries in order to be able to recruit and retain teachers. Both of these issues were addressed in the agreement negotiated in June.

A further harmonization was negotiated in June that will have the impact of increasing the maximum positions on scales by 2.5% to 3.0%. The amount varies to provide a further degree of harmonization at the top of the scales. Increasing maximum positions on salary scales is important because the majority of teachers are on maximum and we spend the majority of our careers at that salary position. Also, our pensions are based on our salaries in our final years of teaching when we are on maximum salary.

Harmonization diminishes the ability of remote areas to recruit teachers with higher salaries. The agreement negotiated in June addresses this concern. In 11 districts teachers will receive a $2,200 annual allowance. The 11 districts are: Central Coast, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Peace River South, Peace River North, Fort Nelson, Coast Mountain, Vancouver Island North, Stikine, Nechako Lakes, and Nisga’a. Also, in the salary increases to the top of scales in 2008 all of these districts will automatically get a 3.0% increase. The increase will not produce any further harmonization in those isolated districts. A fund of $3.5 million will allow the BCTF and BCPSEA to identify other areas of the province that need higher salaries to recruit and retain teachers.

Several other benefits of harmonization apply to many teachers. Every district will now have a 5+ scale for teachers with work beyond their undergraduate degree and teaching qualification. Information will be available in September with regard to the process for application and placement onto the new scales.

In addition, no salary scale in the province will be greater than 10 steps. The reduction of longer salary scales has resulted in significant increases for some teachers at mid-scale.

The process by which teachers are paid will also improve. For the first time, all teachers in the province will be paid twice a month and all teachers will have access to an optional 12-month pay plan.

Salary Indemnity Plan allowance
In the past several rounds of bargaining, the BCTF has argued that we should be compensated for paying for our own long-term disability plan. Finally, the employer and government have agreed. Every year after all salary increases have been applied to grids, a 2.0% allowance will be calculated. This allowance will be paid monthly to teachers as part of their pay. It is both taxable and pensionable. BCTF members retain full control of the Salary Indemnity Plan.

The bonus
Teachers will receive a signing bonus of $4,000 per full-time equivalent, pro-rated for part-time teachers. The bonus is taxable but will not count for pension purposes and union dues will not be deducted.

Other benefits and compensation issues
The increasing cost of health benefits makes improvements to benefits plans one of the most difficult items to achieve at bargaining tables. The only significant improvement to the benefits plans negotiated is the removal of any lifetime limits on Extended Health Benefits. For teachers facing the prospect of exceeding the lifetime limit and no longer having access to EHB this represents an important improvement.

Mileage rates will be adjusted from $0.47 to $0.50 per kilometer during the term of the agreement. Personal property rates will also be improved to $600 for damage to a vehicle and $150 for loss or damage to personally owned professional materials.

Teachers will now have standard language that entitles them to leave for compassionate care to provide care and support for seriously ill relatives. Under the Employment Insurance Act teachers may also qualify for EI benefits for a portion of the leave.

Pension plan
At the bargaining table we raised the growing concern teachers have regarding the ability of the Inflation Adjustment Account of the Teachers’ Pension Plan to continue to provide protection for teachers’ pensions. The government agreed to pay $20 million into the IAA as part of this agreement.

Preparation time
The new agreement guarantees a minimum of 90 minutes of preparation time for elementary teachers. Perhaps most importantly, beginning in September of 2007 the preparation time is guaranteed to teachers every week of the year and cannot be averaged over the year.

Employment equity for Aboriginal teachers
The BCTF is committed to increasing the number of Aboriginal teachers in the province. To that end, we have consistently made proposals regarding an employment equity program for aboriginal teachers. This agreement contains a commitment on the part of the provincial parties to encourage and assist school boards and locals of the BCTF to institute measures that would help them attract and retain Aboriginal teachers.

Portability of sick leave and seniority
Teachers will finally see some benefit to belonging to a provincial bargaining unit. Teachers moving from one district to another will be able to bring up to 60 days of earned sick leave and up to 10 years of seniority from another district. The sick leave will be credited to them once they are hired into another district. Seniority will be credited when the teacher receives a continuing contract. This will provide teachers moving from one district with a greater level of security.

Processes for the establishment of middle school and alternate school calendars

The establishment of alternate calendars, such as four-day weeks or nine-day fortnights, has caused some difficulty between boards and locals with respect to how the altered calendars impact teachers’ salaries and working conditions. Similar issues arise when boards establish middle-school programs.

The agreement established clear processes and timelines for the negotiation of changes to the collective agreement necessitated by the introduction of an alternate calendar or middle-school program.

Updating local agreements
The agreement also contains an important provision that will allow locals to update their collective agreements. Local bargaining followed by many years of dysfunctional provincial bargaining has resulted in agreements that contain many provisions that are out-dated or no longer relevant or functional. The BCTF and BCPSEA have agreed to allow locals to update these provisions without interference by the provincial parties. Hopefully this will allow locals and boards to print agreements that are clear, consistent, and relevant and allow teachers to refer to the agreement in order to fully understand their rights.

The final analysis
This round of bargaining brought some gains that are easily itemized and some that are more difficult to quantify, such as the activism of young members, the attention and respect of government, and an unexpected level of support from parents and the public.

Bargaining is a complex process governed by some simple truths. No agreement is ever as good as the negotiators would like it to be. Every deal is about compromise on all sides. A union will make greater gains in the long term when the members are prepared to take risks, stick together, and use their collective strength.

Teachers took that strong stand in October. We reminded the government and BCPSEA of our determination with our strong strike vote in June. While the deal is not perfect, the amazing courage and solidarity of teachers have enabled us to negotiate significant improvements that teachers will enjoy for years to come.

Irene Lanzinger is the BCTF’s first vice-president and a member of the negotiating team.

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