Keith Baldrey Joins Samantha Falk to Discuss BC Politics BC Teachers' Federation

The Angle, Global BC, 9:40 AM June 11, 2006 Excerpt

Samantha Falk: Lots of news from the capital this week and joining us now to add some insight is our very own legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey. Thanks so much for joining us, Keith.

Keith Baldrey: Good to be here, Samantha.

Samantha Falk: So, why don't we talk about teachers first-big week for teachers negotiations this week. They took a strike vote and voted overwhelmingly in favour of going on strike. What's the skinny from Victoria?

Keith Baldrey: Well, you know, it's - 85% was the marginal of 'Yes' for the strike vote, impressive. Any time a union gets over 80% I think that can be considered a pretty strong mandate.

Obviously teachers rejecting the employers' offer of 8% over 4 years, and that's not the final offer from the employer.

But the problem here, Samantha, is - scenes here from last fall's picket lines in the illegal strike that occurred last fall. There's still a concern that may occur again in the coming fall because the gulf between the two sides is so wide; it's hard to see how they're going to get a settlement.

The teachers' federation is asking for 24% over three years, although they say now they've modified their offer a bit. They want to have it phased in, introduced gradually over 3 years. I think it's 8% and then 4-and-4 and 4-and-4. It still adds to pretty well the same number although it's just sort of phased in more gradually than the original offer but the employer is at 8%.

So, I've always said the two sides were this far apart at the beginning of bargaining, now they're this far apart, so not much movement there between the two sides.

And until the BCTF comes down to what I think the employer calls the settlement zone or the settlement range, which with all other unions is between 8% and 14%, I don't think you're going to see a settlement here. So, the BC Teachers Federation is still way out there compared to other unions and that's why there's not a lot of optimism necessarily being voiced by other side that there's going to be a successful conclusion here because the gulf is so huge.

The one wild card of course - the signing bonus is still on the table. It disappears, though, at the end of June and I know there's some teacher locals out there who have told their members, "Oh, it's just a phoney deadline." I can tell you folks, that is not a phoney deadline because if the government were to extend that deadline past the end of the contract, which is June 30th, that would infuriate all the other unions that signed contracts staring their own deadlines in the face. So, that deadline is very real, it's not going to be extended and that's why the next couple weeks are going to be pivotal in that bargaining round between the teachers and the employer.

Samantha Falk: And that bonus is quite substantial. It's $3,700. Is that...?

Keith Baldrey: Well, it depends how they want to divide it up but it's between $3,300 and $4,000. Of course, that's up front. That's before taxes but still nevertheless it's a pretty good, you know, chunk of change that I think a lot of teachers want.

But it will unfortunate for them if there's no deal by June 30th because that bonus is gone as of June 30th.

And I know talking to some senior government people now they're saying, "Look, if there is no contract here," they'll go - they'll just let the summer go and then we come back in the fall, the teachers will conduct their job action, which is a study session the first day, withdrawal of supervisory activities, rotating strike in the second week, eventually getting to a full-scale walkout.

And they're-the government, having learned its lesson last time, is not going to act too quickly. They're going to let the public stew a bit knowing full well the teachers are going to be viewed publicly as turning down a wage offer, which probably by that time will be in the neighbourhood of 12% over 4 years when everybody else got roughly the same and instead of the zero and zero the teachers had on the table last time and they walked out and the public supported them, this time they will have seen a walking out even though being offered a settlement that is actually greater than some of the private sector settlements.

And I don't - the government is now betting the public will not be on the teachers' side after a couple weeks of job action after they've been public sort of identified as turning down a 12% increase or so in that range over 4 years, and they bet the sentiment will be against them. And it's at that time the government will probably come in with another bill that imposes a contract on the teachers that has happened time and time again in the past, and this time they're betting the public will not be so generous to the teachers in terms of public opinion.

Samantha Falk: Well, hopefully it won't come to that.