Opinion » Editorial

Time for parents to demand action on teachers' strike



It's hard to believe that the government's and the BC Teachers' Federation's entrenched positions are what is best for B.C.'s students.

Full disclosure — I have two children in high school and I want them back in the classroom in September.

This is the third time students in Whistler and elsewhere in B.C. have been impacted by the bitter battle between the teachers' union and the government since 2005. That October teachers staged a17-day illegal strike after a contract was imposed on them. Then in March 2012, teachers staged a three-day walk out. The government passed back-to-work legislation, imposed a cooling-off period and sent the negotiations to mediation. In June of 2012, teachers voted 75 per cent in favour of a tentative one-year deal, ending the dispute.

And now here we are today. It feels like the threat of losing taxpayer-funded education is continually hanging over parents. And I would hazard to say that most parents are sick of it.

Parents and students are the clients here — we pay a great deal toward the system through taxes. Perhaps if parent advocates were at the table negotiating we wouldn't be in this position, as it is reasonable to believe that they really would have the best interests of students at heart.

It is a complicated scenario, but the adversarial nature of the way the province and the BCTF squares off continues to make it impossible for either side to reach a deal that they feel good about.

Though I am hoping that negotiations tomorrow, Aug.8, bear fruit.

Let's look at just one complicating factor — the "Me, Too" clause. This rarely discussed side agreement basically says that if one public-sector union negotiates a better deal than another then the union with the lower wage increase gets to have theirs bumped to the new high. Nice deal.

So last year the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union accepted a five-year deal that offers 5.5-per-cent wage increases — a pact that fits within the B.C. government's bargaining framework for public-sector unions. A third of the public sector has settled so far under those terms.

But negotiations with the nurses are still to come, and if the province gives teachers more than that 5.5 per cent you can be sure the nurses will demand more, and if they get it then so will every other union that is part of the agreement. Can you see the dollar signs lining up?

The BCTF is asking for a wage increase of eight per cent over five years, or less than two per cent a year — and the government is offering seven per cent over six years to match other public sector agreements. But according to the province's own document (Working Together for Students) teachers fell two per cent behind the average public sector increases during the decade — so let's settle and give the teachers what they are asking for.

As for class size and composition, again, the government really has no wiggle room. When Christy Clark, then minister of education, stripped this from the contract in 2001, her own documents showed that they expected the number of teachers to go down by 6,300, saving $275 million. The courts have not once, but twice ruled on this action in favour of the teachers.

Class size and composition does make a difference to the learning experience in the classroom — parents don't need academic studies to prove or disprove this. It can be seen every day in school.

It's common sense – something that seems to be sadly lacking in the current battle.

And speaking of common sense, how can the province think that offering parents $40 a day for childcare or tutoring for kids under 13 is any kind of solution? What kind of childcare can you get these days for $40? And what about kids over 13? Why aren't parents of high-school children eligible as well? After all we all pay education taxes.

It's an ill-conceived idea at best. At worst a blatant public-relations move to try and win parent's support.

What the negotiators seem to be missing here is that parents are on the side of their children. It is not as simple as supporting one side or the other.

But what is simple to grasp is that parents are a part of the equation — they are integral to the operations of school programs, both sport and academic, in and out of the classrooms. Schools across the province would find themselves in a new reality if parents decided to withdraw their services. Just imagine what school life would be like without the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised every year by Parents Advisory Councils. No iPads, no playgrounds, no lunch programs.

And it is very unlikely that this latest face-off by the province will be forgotten by parents when next we head to the polls.