Teachers continue collective bargaining with province 

Class size and composition are foremost says Sea to Sky Teachers' Association president

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - School is about to start, but public teachers have yet to strike a deal with the province.
  • Photo by Joel Barde
  • School is about to start, but public teachers have yet to strike a deal with the province.

With school set to start next week, the union representing B.C. teachers is still hard at work negotiating a deal with the province that will cover B.C.'s public-school teachers. And according to April Lowe, president of the Sea to Sky Teachers' Association (SSTA), the major fight revolves around class size and composition.

"Our major concern is classroom conditions—class-size composition and specialist-teacher ratio," said Lowe. "We're all very, very, very hopeful that an agreement will be made ... through this mediation process."

The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF), which represents the province's 41,000 public-school teachers, has been negotiating with the B.C. Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA), which represents the province's 60 school boards, all week.

A five-year agreement between the parties expired on June 30.

Lowe said that as of now, public school teachers are not planning to strike. "Right now, no job action is planned, as the BCTF has not even authorized a strike vote. So any talk about strike at this point is really immature," said Lowe. "We're really focused on getting a deal through mediation."

Lowe said gains awarded to teachers in their 2016 Supreme Court victory against the B.C. Liberal government—in which class sizes were restored to 2002 levels—must be honoured.

"What we gained with the Supreme Court win needs to be where the negotiations start," said Lowe. "The BCTF would not want to see us take something less than what we won at the Supreme Court."

Lowe said that the SSTA would also like to see increases to what teachers are paid.

"[B.C. has] the second-lowest starting wage in Canada, and the lowest in the Western provinces," said Lowe.

Lowe said that without increases, the Sea to Sky region may have challenges attracting qualified teachers in the future given its notoriously high cost of living.

"Up until this point, we have not had a shortage of teachers," said Lowe. "But I am constantly wondering about that given that it costs so much to live in the Sea to Sky."

Lowe said that the SSTA has already struck a "local agreement" with the local school district, the Sea to Sky School District (SD48), which can't be ratified until the provincial agreement is complete.

"It went really smoothly," she said of negotiations. "That part of the process is complete, and [the contract is] sitting waiting for the provincial agreement.

"It has not been ratified as of yet, because the provincial agreement has to come first."

In a statement to Pique, the BCPSEA declined comment, as negotiations are ongoing with the support of an appointed mediator.

"The parties met with the assistance of the mediator on five dates in July and resumed meeting August 21-23, with further dates set to meet all this week," reads the statement.

"The mediator has requested—and BCPSEA is honouring—a media blackout while the mediation process is underway." In a separate statement to Pique, Lisa McCullough, superintendent of SD48, said the district was pleased to have completed a successful round of negotiations with the SSTA last spring.

"We are pleased to share that we collectively completed bargaining with our local Sea to Sky Teachers' Association," reads the statement.

"Assuming the scope of what we are allowed to bargain at the district level doesn't change, our local agreement will be fully ratified upon completion of the provincial level bargaining.

"Should the scope for local consideration be expanded, we would return to the table for both parties to consider that language and its implications at that time.

"With regards to the provincial matters and the bargaining at that level, we are looking forward to a positive result emerging from the mediation that is currently underway between the BCPSEA and the BCTF."

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