The union representing B.C.’s 45,000 public-school teachers has laid out a plan for escalating job action, as frustration over stalled contract talks grows.
After almost six years of labour peace in the classrooms, the BC Teachers’ Federation has developed a strategy that would increase disruptions in the school system in stages if the province will not put more money on the table to settle their contract.
The union’s representative assembly will vote on the plan by Feb. 1, but the BCTF will not conduct a strike vote so long as talks continue, and not before Feb. 15.
“The BCTF remains fully committed to the Labour Relations Board mediation process. There can be no strike vote, job action, or lockout by the employer while that process continues,” the union said in a statement.
The plan, originally obtained by Global News, is expected to be approved by the union’s policy-making assembly, after which union members will participate in a strike vote.
A spokesman for the union declined to comment on the document, saying only that the plan has not been finalized.
After a successful strike vote, teachers would be in a position to withdraw non-teaching activities and administrative tasks during instructional time and administrative activities outside of instructional time. That would include refusing to produce report cards, provide lunchroom supervision and attend parent-teacher meetings.
The next stage of job action would be felt by parents and students more acutely: The union plans rotating, partial strikes where 20 per cent of the members would walk out each day. “The federation may request locals to co-ordinate service withdrawal in order to hold single-day, provincewide rallies or study sessions, to facilitate local-wide or provincewide actions,” the plan says.
The final stage would be a full strike, and the union would conduct a second provincewide BCTF membership vote before taking that step.
Education Minister Rob Fleming, in a statement Friday, said he hopes the two sides can return to bargaining without a labour disruption. He urged the union to go back to the mediator’s recommendations in November. “The mediator’s report recommends a fair path forward that asks both sides to make compromises.”
Negotiations have been stalled since last November, when the union rejected a mediator’s recommendations that would have the union sign a contract with the same terms that have been accepted by every other major public-sector union in the province. Those terms, laid out in the provincial bargaining mandate for the public sector, provide for wage increases of 2 per cent in each of three years.
The B.C. government maintains it will not provide additional money beyond its prescribed mandate to settle the BCTF contract. The government maintains that any extra lift to the teachers’ contract would force the province to provide equivalent wage increases to the rest of the public sector. Each union that has settled under B.C.'s public-sector bargaining mandate has a “me-too” clause that ensures matching pay increases if another union can negotiate a better wage package.
There are more than 430,000 public-sector employees in British Columbia, and the Ministry of Finance says just a 1-per-cent wage hike would cost more than $300-million. Last week, Finance Minister Carole James said there is no room in her Feb. 18 budget for additional labour costs, and she urged the BCTF to accept the terms of the bargaining mandate.
The strategy document is signed by BCTF president Teri Mooring, who says her union executive has endorsed the plan. The document is stamped “confidential.”
The BCTF has only signed one collective agreement in its 33-year history of provincewide labour negotiations without outside intervention.
The most recent public-school strike in B.C., in 2014, spanned two school years and shuttered classrooms for five weeks. These talks are not just hung up on money, however, but on the integration of contract language that dates back 18 years or more.
In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada handed the union a victory that restored contract language that had been stripped in 2002. That language governs class size and composition – the number of students, and the number of students with special needs, who can be in each classroom. This is the first round of bargaining that deals with the fallout of that decision.
Mediator David Schaub is set to meet with both sides on Jan. 29 to try to set dates to revive negotiations.