Maybe it’s the balmy weather, but here we are on March 21, 2012, the first full day of spring, and I feel a sense of optimism for the working relationship between the BCTF and government. Some might suggest that it is false optimism, a case of spring fever in the form of PollyAnna wearing rose-coloured glasses. But let me dream for a few minutes.
First of all, I don’t think Bill 22 is as bad as some people are making it out to be. At its worst it is an attack on teachers and an attempt to force into place a new model that will give the employer the ability to hire without consideration for seniority and fire with only minimal process. At its best it is an overdue solution to a stalemated bargaining process and a genuine attempt to modernize the public education system through innovative system design that supports teachers’ rights while optimizing opportunities for children. Specifically, it brings about opportunities for districts to select teachers on a combination of suitability and seniority, to which I would add the expected caveat that senior teachers would not be denied work, rather in rare cases be denied a transfer if not suitable for the work (e.g. K-12 certified teacher with a 25 year history at secondary who wants to transfer to kindergarten). And properly implemented we would find a way, with teachers, to design a system that has more effective evaluation processes, enhancements of already strong professional development programs and effective uses of the more-than-welcome learning improvement funds flowing to each district.
I think the truth lies somewhere in between these extremes of very bad and very good. If the provisions of Bill 22 come to life through mediation or legislation we will see a short contract imposed with an opportunity for the parties to bargain for a new contract that would begin in July 2013, a bargain that would include finding “manner and consequence” language on class size and composition. That means that we would see within a year another round of bargaining that might just work (there are those glasses again). In the meantime we would work with the provisions of Bill 22, as mediated or legislated (as one would expect should mediation fail), and do so in an honourable, professional and dignified way, where superintendents and other system leaders would commit to working with local unions to make the provisions work for teachers. My commitment for example would be to follow the ideals of the “at its best” description above.
I also take some optimism by the messaging from the BC Teachers Federation today, that being that a vote will be held on future actions but that the vote will not be until April 17. Still with the positive, that vote will primarily relate to the best means of putting immediate pressure on government to stand down from aspects of Bill 22, with consideration of escalations to job action (legal or otherwise) being for further down the road. Maybe over those coming weeks mediation will work; maybe the parties can take a deep breath and share with a mediator what really matters most to each party and find a middle ground. And if not, then hopefully any further action or legislation by government would impose a contract that the parties can get to renegotiating soon with an eye to ongoing labour peace and excellence in education.
In the meantime, all I know is that we have an outstanding public education system in BC and I am blessed to spend every day working with great teachers, support staff, administrators, children, parents and community members in “BC’s best place to live “(couldn’t resist adding that plug), Saanich.