Government negotiators in the last dispute with B.C. teachers had no intention of reaching a deal and kept school trustee representatives in the dark, the former chair of the province’s bargaining team says.
Melanie Joy stepped down just over a year ago from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) and said her experience mirrored the findings of a withering January court judgment accusing the government of bargaining in bad faith in 2012.
Ms. Joy said she is speaking out now after watching Education Minister Peter Fassbender defend the B.C. Liberals’ history at the bargaining table and teachers voted this week to give their union a new strike mandate. Despite the court ruling and contradictory testimony from the province’s negotiator, the minister has maintained his predecessors sought a fair deal in 2012.
“That wasn’t true and it perturbed me throughout all of the negotiation,” Ms. Joy said. “The government didn’t have the intent to come to an agreement. That’s why it was so difficult.”
But Mr. Fassbender dismissed the former chair, saying she had a “selective memory.”
“Mel has been a very outspoken activist for quite a period of time, including when she was on the BCPSEA board,” he said.
The 2012 agreement was preceded by a tense year in which teachers refused to participate in certain administrative functions and engaged in a three-day walkout. The government tabled back-to-work legislation before the parties came to a mediated agreement that June.
Earlier this week, Ms. Joy ended her silence on the matter in a letter to her local newspaper in southeastern B.C. She said she was unaware during negotiations of the government’s larger plans away from the bargaining table.
She said she began to understand the situation when she read the 115-page ruling by Justice Susan Griffin on Jan. 27, which struck down the Liberals’ education legislation on class size and composition over the past decade. The ruling was a “fascinating” read, Ms. Joy said.
“Everything clicked into place,” she said.
The BCPSEA is the bargaining agent between the province’s 60 school boards and the teacher’s union. Government appointees sat on the organization’s board, but it was dominated by trustees elected locally.
A year after the ratification of the 2012 agreement, the province’s education minister appointed a public administrator to take over the BCPSEA board’s responsibilities. He cited the need for “transparency and efficiency” during future negotiations. To opponents of the move, Mr. Fassbender had dismantled the organization.
“I make absolutely no apologies for that,” the minister said. “I picked up the phone and called every member of the BCPSEA board and told them why we needed the change and thanked them for their efforts.”
Mr. Fassbender said the teachers’ union had asked him to cut out the middle man so it could negotiate directly with the government.
Ms. Joy called the change an attempt by the government to seize control of future bargaining. In 2012, she said the government had wanted to force teachers to strike so it could win public sympathy and end the dispute through legislation. By tabling a bill, teachers would be sent back to work with no salary increase and the government could force through the concessions and the education initiatives it was championing.
Ms. Joy credited the BCPSEA, the teachers’ union and mediator Charles Jago for the successful resolution.
Ms. Joy, who now helps manage a convenience store in the small border town of Creston, is still a trustee with her local school district. She remains optimistic for a settlement as negotiations continue.
Editors’ note: An earlier online version of this story, and the version that appeared in print Friday, incorrectly stated that a public administrator was appointed to replace the BCPSEA one month after ratification of the 2012 contract agreement with teachers. In fact, it was one year later. This version has been corrected.