Teachers hesitant to sign on to long-term deal

President of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union says 10-year deal would take away teachers' ability to respond to potential changes

Educators have given a failing grade to the B.C. government’s plan to forge ahead with negotiations on a 10-year contract and are considering options to push back.

“Collectively, we’re very disappointed,” said Leslea Pryde, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.

“We’re not opposed to something a bit longer. We’ve had five years before, but there has to be something in it. We can’t go zero, zero, zero for everything.”

She said a decade-long pact, which would be a first for a B.C public-sector union, would take away the teachers’ ability to negotiate deals that respond to changing times.

“Basically what teachers are concerned about is we have a democratic right to collective bargaining, and we’re concerned that’s going to be taken away from us. You’re locked in to 10 years.”

The B.C. Liberals campaigned this spring on a promise to work towards the long-term agreement, even while negotiations were underway between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

Those talks, which began five months ago, will now conclude today, the government announced this week. No date has been set to open the next round of bargaining, which will see the BCPSEA replaced by a new negotiator.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender told reporters this week that the previous work will be a “launching pad” for the new negotiations, which he hopes will begin with both sides sitting down to develop a “road map” for moving forward.

The former Langley mayor acknowledged teachers’ concerns with the length of the proposed agreement, but noted a 20-year contract he helped negotiate between the B.C. government and the RCMP “had checks and balances that ensured fairness and equity for all of the parties.”

Teachers are currently working under a two-year contract that expires June 30, and the BCTF on Monday sent a letter to its 40,000 members notifying them of a vote that would authorize the union to fight back against a long-term deal.

“We need to send a strong message to government that teachers will not accept a 10-year scheme to lock in another decade of deteriorating conditions,” union president Susan Lambert wrote.

Votes are due in today.

Pryde, who spent last weekend meeting with her B.C. counterparts, said the possibility of job action was discussed, as were other strategies to oppose a long contract.

“No teacher wants to take job action. They don’t. That’s a very difficult thing to do,” Pryde said. However, “In the past we’ve been put in that position where we’ve had no choice.”

 

With files from Tom Fletcher/Black Press