Susan Lambert, past president and current board member of the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (BCTF), was at the Wolf’s Den last Wednesday to meet with local teachers to discuss collective bargaining. The BCTF has been without a contract with the provincial government since the previous one expired on June 30. As of yet, the two sides have not gotten back to the bargaining table.
“Almost immediately after this government won the election, they cancelled bargaining,” said Lambert. “We have not yet got back to the bargaining table, which is a concern.”
However, according to a Ministry of Education spokesperson, the provincial government has been ready to bargain for months. The Ministry recently received bargaining dates from the union, and the government’s lead negotiator, Peter Cameron, is currently reviewing them. Potential dates in November and December have also been proposed, and these sessions will be the first chance for the new committee representing trustees and government, including Cameron, to meet with the BCTF. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said this on June 25:
“Well, when I met with them, their traditional approach is they don’t bargain in the summer because that’s a time that teachers take off. And I said to them, ‘we’re prepared to work through whatever time frame they’re willing to sit with us to develop the road map and then to begin a new bargaining process from where we left off and moving forward.’”
Fassbender later made it clear that it was at the union’s insistence that no bargaining was conducted over the summer, and that it was not a mutual decision.
Bargaining was postponed in September as the province and the BCTF went to the B.C. Supreme Court over a 2011 ruling that said the government had violated constitutional rights by denying the union the right to bargain over class size, composition and staffing levels. The ruling on that case is currently pending.
One of the main issues that teachers in B.C. are having is large class sizes, something that is not a big problem in a small town like Golden. According to Lambert, teachers in town have a different area of concern.
“Teachers are very frustrated. We are seeing the conditions in our classrooms erode. The ability of teachers to teach to all the needs of the kids in their class is getting more and more difficult as support systems are taken away.”
There are no longer any teacher-librarians at any of Golden’s schools and there is a current lack of special needs teachers, which often leaves teachers having to shoulder increased responsibility with regards to students with special needs. According to research done by the BCTF, the province is 5,800 teachers short of the national average when it comes to pupil-teacher ratio.
“Every teacher is making up for that loss of personnel…That’s very frustrating. Teacher’s are burning out,” said Lambert.
“We’re anxious to reach a settlement with government,” said Mike Archibald, BCTF’s union representative for this region.
“We want to do what’s best for the kids in schools and our members.”