BC’s education system needs an attitude change

Boards of Education, parents & the public want a resolution — the BCTF prefers an impasse

Thanks to Jon Ferry of the Vancouver Province for providing an opportunity to address the need for “attitude change” as a legitimate topic within the context of the BCTF labour action.

Ministers of Education from both sides of the political spectrum (Liberal and NDP) have attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with the BCTF. George Abbott as the current Minister of Education came to the portfolio from Health Care with a relatively effective record of negotiation within that sector. Unfortunately, this experience in Health Care has zero relevance in the K -12 public education sector in which the BCTF refuses to participate in meaningful negotiation or to agree to recommendations that would permit meaningful bargaining.

Five years ago in February 2007 Vince Ready, the Industrial Inquiry Commissioner, presented his Final Report for Collective Bargaining Options to the then Minister of Labour. The report focused on bargaining in the K-12 public education sector.

The BCTF did not object to the selection of Vince Ready, nor did they challenge his credentials to undertake this task. They also did not try to prevent him from completing his task by initiating legal action to delay or to prevent preparation of a report. Vince Ready is and was a respected labour adviser whose expertise for the task was accepted by both BCTF and BCPSEA.

In such circumstances, the public legitimately could expect that recommendations arising in the Ready Report would be focused, positive, and provide a way out of the interminable politically motivated impasse that the public must endure whenever the BCTF is at the bargaining table.

The Ready recommendations were focused, were positive and were not unique. To a degree, they provided a statement of necessary pre-conditions for meaningful bargaining in any sector. Briefly summarized the Ready Recommendations were:

  1. No later than 8 months prior to bargaining both parties (BCTF and BCPSEA) establish their bargaining objectives through mechanisms that exist in their respective organizations
  2. 8 months prior to the expiry of the Collective Agreement, a Facilitator/Mediator is to be appointed by agreement of the parties and failing agreement, the Minister of Labour shall appoint a Facilitator/Mediator
  3. A Government official is appointed to serve directly on the Bargaining committee of BCPSEA and to participate in all activities. The Official should be senior enough to effectively represent the public policy interests of government
  4. The parties develop a common understanding of the data related to ALL collective bargaining matters such as:
    1. total cost of compensation;
    2. benefit costs;
    3. teacher demographics;
    4. teachers on-call;
    5. labour market issues (including but not limited to teacher supply, demand, as well as recruitment and retention matters)

The BCTF response to these recommendations is an indication of why there is an interminable and recurring impasse each time the BCTF is at the bargaining table.

BCPSEA, on behalf of the 60 Boards of Education in BC, agreed to be bound by all 4 recommendations. The BCTF outright rejected recommendations 2 and 4 and further refused to be bound by them.

Recommendations 2 and 4 are not interferences to bargaining that unduly favour one party over another. Recommendation 2 ensures that a Facilitator/Mediator appointed is acceptable to both parties and, if agreement cannot be reached, ensures that an appointment is made, not by the Minister of Education, but by the Minister of Labour. It also ensures an objective third party at the table whose designated role throughout the bargaining process is to facilitate and to mediate.

With such a person is at the table, it is possible, at least in bargaining, to challenge the political polarization on which the BCTF relies. This polarization is a critical part of BCTF media campaigns replete with rhetoric and sound bites which ensure that both their members and the public remain poorly informed.

Recommendation 4 is the most critical recommendation. It sets necessary preconditions for any bargaining – agreement about which data and method of calculation are valid, reliable and required by both parties in order to bargain effectively. One only needs to review the differences in the cost estimates within the current round of bargaining to understand how critical agreement about data and methods of calculation are to reaching any agreement.

As of January 2012, the BCTF estimated the Year 1 cost of their proposals to be $306M, BCPSEA estimated the cost to $498M – a $192M difference. Looking at the cumulative cost estimates through the life of the contract, the BCTF using their data sources and methods of calculation estimate the cumulative cost at $1.3B; BCPSEA data and method of calculation estimates cumulative cost at $2.1B – an $800M difference.

For taxpayers and the public education system, these differences are significant and must be resolved. However, the BCTF would seem to prefer a situation that ensures an impasse. In the absence of agreement about what are reliable and valid data as well as common methods for calculation, the BCTF can continue to point fingers at BCPSEA “because their data do not agree with BCTF data”. An impasse is ensured, politicization increases and no resolution can occur. Vince Ready recommended a way through the impasse, but the BCTF appears to prefer the political advantage that an impasse provides. One might ask, why?

Continued political polarization permits the BCTF through its rhetoric to convince its members that if government does not meet BCTF demands:

  1. teachers are being “victimized”;
  2. teachers are “not respected”; and
  3. the union of teachers represents the ”public interest” and therefore the union leadership must take firm positions that “protect public education”.

In the past such rhetoric was effective and rarely challenged. Superintendents who serve at the pleasure of their School Boards prudently remain silent. Some School Boards are as politicized as the BCTF. Many Board trustees are members of the BCTF or, in some cases, a majority of Board trustees serve with BCTF endorsement and political support. These Boards are also silent. However, despite this relative silence from other key partners in the public education sector, the BCTF rhetoric is wearing thin.

Boards of Education, parents and the public want to be able to evaluate and to account for how public dollars allocated to education are being spent. Ensuring that teachers are fairly compensated related to other comparable sectors or professions is important. However, this cannot be accomplished by continuing to increase the proportion of School Board budgets allocated to staff salary and benefits particularly when enrollments are declining.

The Ministry and the Boards must also ensure that a public education system has sufficient resources to provide every child in public education with safe, seismically upgraded facilities appropriate for learning, necessary and appropriate learning materials, access to learning technologies and learning environments that will prepare them to succeed as lifelong learners capable of adapting to rapid change.

This cannot be accomplished in the currently “hyper-politicized” bargaining environment in which the BCTF prefers to sustain the impasse and refuses to accept or be bound by recommendations that would provide a means to reach agreement.

– post by Carol Gibson

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  • boohoo

    “BCTF refuses to participate in meaningful negotiation”

    Neither does the government, so what?

    Both parties are guilty here, equally stubborn and stupid. The difference is the government can just change the law to suit their needs.

    CC, still waiting for the other side to be represented. One wonders if that will ever come?

  • Rod Smelser

    The BCTF outright rejected recommendations 2 and 4 and further refused to be bound by them.

    Does the author have a source for this purported statement of fact?

  • teririch

    About a month ago I was at the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market.

    There were a group of teachers talking about planned job action forSeptember.

    For those parents with kids in the public school system – lucky them.

  • Eli W.

    I spent Friday marking Grade Ten provincial exams, and there is a theme to my comment.

    If this post is a response to the idea that “BC’s education system needs an attitude change”, I can’t give it more than a C. Your heading suggests a synthesis essay where two sides to be considered, but you only address one. According to the provincial rubric for a synthesis essay, I can give you a four out of six, maximum.

    However, more alarmingly, you seem to have some interpretation mistakes and some factual errors. Given that you have used the elements of style effectively enough that I understand what you are writing, I won’t give it a two, but rather a three, out of six. (Cs get degrees, but Ds generally don’t.)

    I may be wrong, and forgive me if I am, but “The BCTF outright rejected recommendations 2 and 4 and further refused to be bound by them” doesn’t seems to be true.

    According to my initial survey of the literature, the BCTF accepted all terms conditionally. The condition was that the BCTF be allowed to continue to challenge the constitutional validity of class size and composition clauses in the collective agreement. I value our constitution, so I value that condition.

    More on the BCTFs conditional acceptance of all of the Ready recommendations can be found here:

    Here, on page nine, it explains that the BCTF voted in favor of accepting Ready’s recommendations:

    To be honest, I can’t say for sure that the BCTF didn’t reject two of Ready’s recommendations. I simply can’t find anything to support the claim that is at the heart of this post – can you, Carol?

  • Reid

    I think there is enough blame to go around regarding who is responsible for the impasse.

    The point that resonates with me is the fact that the two sides cannot agree on a common set of data regarding costs and the like. Big surprise then that they cannot agree on a contract.

  • Waltyss

    Ok, Carol Gibson hates the BCTF. We get that, we really do. Just about everything she posts is an anti_BCTF screed. Good thing that she chose not to run again in the last election.
    There is no question but that the BCTF is extremely difficult and frustrating to deal with. That appears to be a given in just any jurisdiction.
    However, if assigning blame is productive in any way whatsoever, one might have hoped that in her screed (screech?), Ms. Gibson might have given the slightest nod to seeing that there are issues on both sides.
    She automatically assigns fault to the BCTF for disagreement on numbers. She does not say why. That may be true but an extremist in her hatred of the BCTF saying it is hardly convincing.
    This government is hardly blameless in twisting figures for its own ends. Why should we assume that their figures are correct and the BCTF’s wrong? Or should the BCTF simply roll over and accept the government’s figures regardless of their validity?
    At the same time, the BC government has taken positions stripping provisions out of collective agreements that the highest court in the land has found to violate our constitution. Hardly a trivial matter. And the government so far as can be told has refused to negotiate those provisions.
    And of course the government/trustees come in wanting all sorts of changes to the collective agreement with a net zero mandate. Gee, I wonder why the BCTF was unprepared to play ball. Whether those provisions can be justified or not, in the real world you do not strip out existing provisions without something in exchange. That is called bargaining.
    There is much I dislike about the BCTF including their unrealistic bargaining demands, their self righteousness and their stance as defenders of public education.
    However Ms. Gibson’s unbalanced screed has, if anything, gained more sympathy for the BCTF in my mind than I had before.

  • Thought of The Night

    “BCTF and the BC Liberals will have no choice come next September, but to… bring back, Pink Floyd!”

    Last month, May 26th, Roger Waters/ Pink Floyd was in Vancouver playing at BC Place… on their “The Wall” tour.
    BCTF members and significant BC Liberals leaders were in the audience waiving their lighters on the tune … Another Brick in The Wall…


    They are still not sure what to do!
    But we do…

    We live in Vancouver and this keep us busy.

  • boohoo

    Looks like the unreasonable BCTF managed to come to an agreement. Of course it will expire in one year so we’ll be right back where we started….

  • Carol Gibson

    Rod, Factual sources for comments re: Ready Report:

    The Ready Report was published February 2, 2007 and I believe it is still available on the Education Ministry website and on the BCPSEA website. I have a copy on file which I referenced.

    Ready’s Report recommendations were non-binding.

    Comments related to what BCTF did or did not agree to are contained in a February 2012 Report to the Hnourable Dr.. Maragret MacDiarmid Minister of Labour and Citizens’ Services titled ” An Inquiry into the Status of Collective Bargaining between BCPSEA and BCTF”.

    The Report was prepared by Trevor Hughes, assistant Deputy Minister, Industrial Relations. The relevant information is on page 3 of 18.

    I was working from my file copy, but This Report is likely on the websites for the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour as well the BCPSEA website.

    Hope this helps.

  • Carol Gibson


    For the record, I do not hate the BCTF specifically and I am not anti-union.

    What I do hate about the negotiating processes when the BCTF is the Union at the table is a tyranny of BCTF sound bites and a deafening silence from education reporters or commentators for whom the Reports and data I access for factual information are readily available on various websites.

    I also hate the assumption that anyone who challenges BCTF rhetoric must “hate the BCTF”. Many who are committed to crtitical and analytical thinking as well as critical civil discourse choose to remain silent when the BCTF is at the table for fear of being targeted with just this type of rhetoric.

    With respect to “the numbers” I did not assign fault. I asked a question arising from a premise that agreement about data sources, what data are relevant and methods used for calculation are pre-conditions for bargaining.

    My question is and remains:

    If a union wanted to sustain an impasse at the bargaining table, is there any better way to do this than to refuse to comply with the Ready Report Recommendation that the parties come to agreement about data and methods of calculation necessary to estimate the total cost of an agreement?

    Government and BCPSEA (representing 60 Boards of Education) accepted this recommendation. BCTF did not. The question remains: “Why”

    Finally, despite the rhetoric and claims to the contrary, the issues related to Bill 28 and the BC Supreme Court decision are being addressed through separate processes, not at the bargaining table. The fact that these discussions are happening at the same time as baragaining legitimately creates confusion for all and especially for the public. However, the timeline provided by the Court appears to be firm.

    To add to confusion, while BCTF claims that class size and compostion are not relevant to the bargaining dispute, BCTF has included class size and composition as issues for local baragaining with School Boards – referred to as “the split of issues” between provincial and local bargaining tables.

    Class size and composition are “staffing clauses” and have significant costs associated with them.

    While claiming NOT to include class size and composition, BCTF would move these issues to local table for negotiation with 60 individual school boards thus creating a potential for the type of whip-sawing of Boards that characterized the period of bargaining with the BCTF between 1987 and 1984.

  • Carol Gibson

    Eli W, Thanks for the access to you grading practices. I interpret your response with humour which is welcome.

    There are actually 2 headliners for the post – not technically “titles” for an essay.

    The first likely should have been in quotation marks (not sure how many marks off for that one). It referred to the article in The Province by Jon Ferry ” BC’s education system needs an attitude change”. His piece was more balanced than mine.

    My post under the headliner “BC Parents, and the public want resolution – BCTF prefers an impasse” doesn’t claim to present both sides. It clearly states an opinion for which I provide predominantly factual source informatin.

    I typically go to original reports rather than newspaper reports. I included the sources used in the response to Rod – original Reports – most of which are on line.

    Have yet to check the sites for detail with respect to tentative one-year agreement, but will do so this week.

  • Tunya Audain

    Dr. Thomas Fleming, CKNW, Jun 28, ‘12 8:48am
    Bill Good: You wrote “Worlds Apart: BC Schools, Politics, & Labour Relations, Before & After 1972. Why 1972?
    F: In 1972 BCTF converted to partisanship, [BC elected its 1st NDP gov].. BCTF claimed credit.
    G: Despite that history NDP hasn’t been all that kind to BCTF.
    F: BCTF has argued with all gov for 40 yrs .. but we’re living in transformational times .. model is mid-19th C .. different universe now .. change is being forced on us.
    G: What has to happen?
    F: The BCTF Exec has de facto become an unelected, unofficial opposition to any gov … they have a particular agenda beyond representing member rights – to define public policy .. but we elect gov of different pol stripes to create public policy .. It would be better if the federation ran themselves as a party.
    G: Any change?
    F: We need to get beyond this toxic relationship that’s gone on for 40 yrs.
    G: Doesn’t it have to come from within the teachers themselves?
    F: I believe so.

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