VICTORIA – The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is holding a member vote this week, seeking a mandate to reject “government interference” in province-wide bargaining.
Outgoing BCTF president Susan Lambert notified 40,000 public school teachers of the vote in a letter sent out Monday, a copy of which was obtained by Black Press. Teachers have until Friday to vote.
“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,” Lambert wrote. “The ballot will read: ‘Do you support our bargaining team and their efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement, and oppose any government interference in the bargaining process? Yes or No’.”
The vote signals a reversal of the BCTF position on bargaining. In a submission to the government in December 2012, the union called for “provincial bargaining between the BCTF and government regarding salary, benefits, hours of work, paid leaves, class size, class composition, and staffing levels for specialist teachers,” and “local bargaining of all other items.”
BCTF president-elect Jim Iker acknowledged Wednesday that the union called for direct bargaining on provincial issues late last year, but negotiated a new “bargaining framework” with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association in January.
“This ‘agreement in committee’ allowed bargaining to move forward in a quiet, out-of-the-media-spotlight manner and meetings began in February,” Iker said. “The talks since have been the most constructive talks in years and that’s why teachers are hoping the provincial government does not interfere.”
The province-wide vote follows Monday’s announcement by Education Minister Peter Fassbender that he has asked for a “pause” in bargaining, to appoint a direct government negotiator for province-wide issues with a goal of reaching a 10-year deal. With the current two-year agreement due to expire June 30, negotiators for the BCTF and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, representing school districts, have been ongoing since February.
“We are not walking away from the table, we are walking toward it,” Fassbender said. “The work that has been done to date will not be lost. In fact, we want to build on it.”
A BCTF spokesman said the government request for a “pause” has been withdrawn, and talks continued Wednesday with BCTF and BCPSEA representatives.