Good Faith?

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to a letter from Mr. Clovechok, the President of the B.C. Liberal Columbia River Revelstoke Riding Association (September 13).  In his letter, in which he writes about the current state of the relationship between government and teachers and the progress of teacher bargaining, Mr. Clovechok states that Education Minister George Abbott, “remains committed to working with teachers to improve our public education system.”

As a teacher, I have found that Minister Abbott’s words may not be combative, but his actions certainly have not matched his rhetoric.  In fact, while Mr. Clovechok states that, “the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the Province continue to negotiate in good faith,” the mandate Mr. Abbott’s team has brought to the provincial bargaining table has backed teachers into a corner and forced us to take job action.

First, Mr. Abbott has sent his representatives to the provincial bargaining table with a mandate no worker would accept.  Many people in the general public may interpret the government’s “net zero” mandate as, “Let’s roll over the current deal for a few years with no salary improvements.”  Given that we are the lowest compensated teachers west of Quebec (I would need an almost 20 per cent raise to match my colleagues in Banff), that would be a hard pill to swallow on its own.  However, the provincial employer is coming to the table without money, and demanding enormous concessions in areas like security of employment and professional development.  That is a “sub zero” mandate in the minds of teachers, and is wholly unacceptable.

Second, in 2002 the Campbell government (and Education Minister Christy Clark) funded a massive tax cut by stripping away provisions from our contract, including protection of class size, librarian time and support for special needs students.  The elimination of these items from our contracts was intended to save approximately $275 million a year.  We’ve seen the result: 190 school closures, more than 12,000 classrooms beyond legislated guidelines last year, and libraries without teacher librarians for significant parts of the instructional day.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of BC found that the stripping of our contracts was unconstitutional.  We are trying to get protections for libraries, classrooms and special education students back into our collective agreements, but what the government proposes is a new formula that would return “tens of millions” back to the education system.  Tens of millions may sound like a significant fund, but since 2002, almost $3 billion worth of funding has been cumulatively eliminated because of that stripping a decade ago, and teachers and their students have borne the brunt of its effect.

My members appreciate that Mr. Clovechok will always be a staunch “cheerleader” for teachers.  Many teachers have the impression that members of his party haven’t always been on our side since being elected in 2001.  The best thing you can do for us, Mr. Clovechok, is send the message back to the Liberal leadership in Victoria that we not only need more cheering, but we need more respect at the bargaining table: Send your team with a mandate to bargain improvements for teachers and the students they teach.

Yours in Public Education,

Bob Wilson

President, Golden Teachers’ Association