British Columbia has an NDP minority government supported by the Green Party. The BC government has recently added $1 billion to education spending, largely to meet staffing needs due to a victory by the BC teachers’ union, BCTF, in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016.The previous ‘Liberal’ but philosophically conservative, government had pulled a giant political dirty trick on BCTF in the early 2000’s when BCTF had agreed to limit salary demands in order to get significant concessions in class size and composition. Composition refers to the number of integrated special ed students allowed in each class.
The government kept the salary low but legislated away the unions right to bargain class size and composition. As a result, BC teachers fell behind in wages and also lost the right to negotiate the conditions. Now BC wages are lower than comparable ‘have’ provinces like Ontario and Alberta and currently #9 of the 10 provinces, $10 000 behind Ontario at 10 year max. Not surprisingly, the NDP government would rather spend the new $1 billion on 5000+ new teachers than on teacher salaries where they get more public credit. The government does recognize that BC teachers are well behind on salary particularly for those living in the Lower Mainland Vancouver and Victoria areas where housing costs only compare to Toronto and are out of reach for new teachers. The government has painted itself into a corner with other negotiations in the public arena. In order to keep ‘labour peace’ for its fragile one seat advantage, two party alliance, the government negotiated a three year, 2% per year agreements with other public sector unions. Granting more to teachers would anger the other unions but failure to do better than 2% makes teachers no better off with regards to other provinces and no better off in absolute terms in a 2% inflation world.
This report argues that the government needs to try harder to move BC teachers towards parity with other provinces while explaining to other unions that this is a special case. Not an easy sell.
Disputes right now, are not only between the government and BCTF but involve the school boards association as well and go back to the class size and composition issues. Some boards have moved ahead vigorously with hiring to meet the Supreme Court decision while others have dragged their feet. The government seems to want to average staffing which would possibly mean losing teachers in Vancouver while BCTF wants to bring all boards up to the best levels of staffing. Both claim it is not really as far off as the other claims and the devil seems to be in the algorithms. Both the BC government and BCTF agree that class size and composition is improving.
It would seem to be a situation where the parties can reach an accommodation without a strike, certainly not a full withdrawal of services, still, the issues remain unresolved as this journal is set to blast to 25 000 emails.
On the contrary, Ontario has a hard right Tory regime under Doug Ford that is running an essentially ‘scorched earth’ policy across one of the world’s finest education systems. In the most direct contrast, as the BC NDP/Green government is trying to increase the BC education budget by $1 billion, Ford is basically trying to remove $1 billion from education. The contrast between BC and ON could not be clearer than that.
Anyone with a clue about education finance understands than you cannot remove $1 billion from ON education without a frontal assault on the teaching cadre of the province. Teachers are 70% roughly of the education budget, support staff add another 10%. It is a ‘labour intensive’ area. If you are determined to remove $1 billion from education you really have two choices, attack teacher wages or attack the total number of teachers employed. Ford has decided to do both. This assault was actually worse that the Mike Harris regime 1995-2003 and the worst attack on public education in the living memory of anyone involved.
There are recent signs of shifting sands however. Polling released after the cuts and further announcements have shown that in some polls, Ford has crashed through the floor of what many thought was his rock hard base of 30% and was running third behind both the leading NDP and a resurgent Liberal Party. This led directly to a cabinet shuffle and the hopeless minister Lisa Thompson was shuffled out for a "better communicator' in the form of Stephen Lecce. Ford had announced a one student increase per class in elementary class size but a six student increase in secondary schools from 22 to 28 students per class. It seems the consequence the Tories had not fully understood is that this direction would mean a loss of many course sections and indeed the loss of some courses entirely. Ford promised any job loss would be through attrition to mollify the unions but in fact, some teachers are already laid off and an incredible round of 'bumping' (reassignment by seniority) has profoundly unnerved the system.
The teachers of OSSTF and OECTA ran a brilliant early campaign by targeting the weakest 30 Tory riding with postcards that identified and blamed the local MPP directly for the Ford cuts. This contributed directly to Ford’s fall from grace. OSSTF president Harvey Bischof told a summer union assembly “The Ford government has declared war on the education system”. The unions should repeat the postcard campaign as needed, particularly in 2022, the next election year.
Ford’s attack on autistic kid’s education and the sex education curriculum rewrite also blew up in his face and ended up alienating everybody involved. Ford’s mean spirited government has increasingly seemed totally incompetant as well to the point of devolving into a clown car but with only scary clowns. Not a good look. A poll by Innovative Research found 61% said Ford is on the wrong track in education. 51% trusted the teachers to act in the best interest of the system, but only 16% trusted Ford to do the same, literally only half of the Tory base vote!
Serious collective bargaining has begun and Lecce is announcing he “is open to other ways to save money” in other words he wants the unions to come up with other ways to save $1 billion by degrading the education system some other way. It is a pathetic attempt to get “buy in” from the unions and community when he and Ford are already political dead men walking. These negotiations won’t be bean bag. It is too early in the process for any form of strike action.
The OSSTF/board/province central negotiations are already off the rails with the boards insisting that some issues be shifted from the local table (board v local union) to the central table. Imagine a jurisdiction insisting on giving away what is left of its autonomy to another level of government. We can only assume some unique local clauses and language that is a stick in the eye of the boards has provoked them. They believe they will be more likely to be changed at a central table. The Toronto District 12 on-call language which limits the abuse of on call language and insists boards call substitute teachers would be one example. It is a sad commentary on the boards. How can they insist on more autonomy while they give away what little they have? That issue has gone to the Ontario Labour Board so we won’t likely hear from them until mid September.
In the meantime, it is hard to separate out the political issues of legislation and government policy directives from the collective bargaining issues especially as wage controls, probably unconstitutional, add one more layer of complexity.
ETFO, the public elementary teachers’ union, led by Sam Hammond, is beginning a heavy political campaign of billboards and media ads. Bischof and OSSTF have begun begun airing hard hitting TV ads in ‘film noir’ black and white, demonstrating how the cuts not only affect students and their families but ultimately degrade the economy as well.
The takeaway? BC new government is NDP minority with Green support. They added $1 billion, added 4000 teachers so far, and 1000 EAs. Teacher raise expected to be 2+2+2%
Ontario new government is populist far right Tory regime. They are cutting $1 billion, over 3000 teacher positions gone, with many more to go. many support staff as well. Teachers and support staff wages to be capped 1+1+1%. Less than inflation.
If you were a teacher, support staff, student who could vote, parent or progressive community member, who would you vote for next time?
Teacher Negotiations a Tale of Two Provinces.
Serious negotiations for new teacher contracts in Canada’s two most populous, English speaking provinces are a study in contrasts, partly because of the parties in power, and partly because of the recent political history of the two giant provinces. The consequences for other smaller provinces are the result of the fact that patterns do exist in this area and set parameters for future bargaining.