There is nothing to suggest that public employees choose their vocations for anything other than the noblest intentions. In many cases, we can point to individuals in the public service who we know socially, or have had contact with through our children’s schools, or as a result of a tragedy or near tragedy, who have demonstrated nothing but superb performance of their duties in often difficult, sometimes dangerous, conditions.
It is surprising, therefore, that these sterling individuals would continue to support the activities and positions pursued by leaders of their public-sector unions.
The actions of the BCTF over the past 18 months regarding ongoing “job action” and the “non-strike” walkouts should be a source of embarrassment to teachers, most of whom are interested only in teaching children and earning a fair living for their service, often in that order of importance. That the BCTF is demanding additional paid leave, benefits and wage increases after three years of increases in the 15 per cent range should be a further source of discomfort for teachers. The private-sector employees have foregone regular substantive wage or salary increases over the past few years — and, not to put too fine a point on things, are forced by threat of prosecution to fund teachers’ salaries and benefits through payment of taxes.
The B.C. government shares some blame for the situation with the BCTF. The government is constrained on fiscal and moral grounds to spend taxpayer money as effectively as it sees fit. One can argue this government’s success in that regard, but it is, as they say, what it is. This government was elected, in part, on its promise to keep public-sector wage spending under control. The government position should therefore be no surprise to the BCTF or its members.
B.C. public-sector union leadership, particularly the BCTF, is the final refuge of militant, hard-left trade unionists. The private sector has largely rid itself of confrontational labour/management relationships — and improved workers’ wages, productivity and profitability as a result. Pronouncements by the BCTF leaders attempting to assign moral equivalence to the fines to the union threatened in Bill 22 and the fines levied in the case of a number of farm workers killed in a tragic highway accident are despicable. This kind of rhetoric causes one to ponder why otherwise reasonable teachers would continue to offer support to such leaders.
The BCTF communicates a false world view of government resources and funding opportunities to its membership on an ongoing basis. Many demands made by the BCTF on behalf of teachers are met with eye-rolling disbelief by the general public. Leaders of the BCTF are of the view that 14 days paid bereavement, not just for a deceased spouse or family member, but for anyone known to the “bereaved” is reasonable and just.
The suggestion that taxpayers should “top-up” EI maternity leave for teachers, or that a retired teacher ought to be paid a “bonus” equal to his or her last year’s salary, simply for retiring, are examples of the muddled thinking of the BCTF leadership. The latter proposal was ultimately withdrawn by the BCTF, but such proposals do little to garner support for teachers in the minds of the taxpayer.
Teachers, and all public-sector employees, ought to be paid fairly for the services they provide. It is clear many already are — if not, people would be leaving public-sector jobs for greener pastures in the private sector. Most stay at their public-service jobs long enough to collect pensions. Universities continue to graduate students whose goal it is to become teachers. Current average teacher salaries are significantly higher than the provincial average. Allowing union leadership to wrap negotiations in favoured causes of social justice and political activism that complicates what should be a discussion about wages and benefits is something rank and file members of these unions need to consider.
The BCTF has been at war with the B.C. government for 40 years, the issues over which the leadership does battle change little. Class size, wages relative to other provinces and paid time off always top the list. For individual teachers, these disputes are always about pay, benefits and respect — for parents, kids and teachers, the BCTF leadership is all about ideology and politics.
Invariably the teachers and public-sector unions are legislated back to work without getting their demands, and the union leaders blame the government. Perhaps teachers and other public-sector union members need to consider the leaders they continually elect to represent them, and the inevitable result of the disputes they initiate.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.