Negotiations with BCTF

Global B.C. Morning News – 7:34 AM – June 29, 2006 Transcript

Lynn Colliar: Bargaining talks between B.C. teachers and their employer remain stalled despite a looming contract and signing bonus deadline. With more on this story we're joined on the phone with legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey.

Good morning, Keith.

Keith Baldrey: Good morning, Lynn.

Colliar: So the deadline's tomorrow. What's the latest?

Baldrey: Well, the deadline's late tomorrow — tomorrow night at midnight. If the teachers want to get that signing bonus, they have to have an agreement in principle by midnight tomorrow night. And there's a long way to go. The good news is they are continuing to talk and that they have agreed to a number of items to sign off the table or drop them from each other's proposal, and they're really down to…. My understanding is they're down to the salary increase.

And of course, the BCTF publicly is still at the 19-percent-over-three-years figure, and the employer is at the 10 percent over four years. That's a huge gap. The BCTF's looking, basically, for 6 percent a year, and the employer's offering 2½ percent a year, if you want to break it down that way. And my understanding is I think the TF has moved a little bit on that, although nothing's been made public yet, but certainly not to the point where they're anywhere near the employer's position.

And one of the problems here is the employer doesn't have that big of an incentive to bargain much higher than what they've already got on the table. They get their mandate from the cabinet, and Carole Taylor, the Finance Minister, and others have already let it be known that they expect the settlement to come within the parameters set by the other settlements with public sector unions, which was anywhere from 8 percent over four years to 14 percent over four years, which is what the nurses got.

And I think it's the nurses' contract that's the sticking point here. The BCTF, I think, is arguing that they should be treated like nurses. The problem there is that there's a documented shortage of nurses, not only in B.C. but in Canada and the rest of the world, and the employer doesn't disagree with that notion — nobody disagrees with that — but the BCTF has yet to prove its case to anybody that there's a provincewide shortage of teachers, particularly with the decline in enrolment. So they're stuck on that issue.

But, you know, there's 48 hours to go, and other labour talks looked seemingly hopeless at this point in time. You know, the two sides can still pull off a miracle here, and maybe that may indeed happen by midnight tomorrow night.

Colliar: Now, we say midnight tomorrow night is the deadline. That's the deadline for this signing bonus. So what…? It's $3,700 a teacher, Keith. Is that right? What sort of role does that play in these negotiations?

Baldrey: In all the other negotiations that was a huge role from everybody we've talked to in both the unions and employers in other sectors, and it was a prime motivation to get their members the bonus from other union negotiators. It's a significant bonus for people who earn $40,000, $45,000, $50,000 a year. That's a nice chunk of money, and even though it's a one-time payment and doesn't get factored into your collective agreement, it was a pretty nice carrot out there for other unions and was a driving force, I think, behind a lot of successful negotiations.

The BCTF has said that they don't think…. Jinny Sims and Irene Lanzinger, the vice-president of the BCTF, have both publicly said they don't think the bonus is as important as getting a good deal and sort of dismissed it as something that's not going to be a driving element here. Unfortunately, though, I don't see how the BCTF's going to be able to achieve the equivalent of that bonus in further bargaining, because it's probably about 5 or 6 percent of a teacher's pay packet, and they're not going to get that at the table. You're not going to be able stick 5 percent onto what the employer's already offering. That's just not there.

And I think it may not be as big a role with the negotiating team from the BCTF as it was with the negotiating teams of the other public sector unions last time, which may be bad news for teachers who were looking to spend that bonus on their summer vacation.

Colliar: Absolutely. Okay, well, Keith, we'll keep an eye on this, and I know we'll be hearing from you, hopefully, again tomorrow morning on it.

Baldrey: Oh, yeah. I'll be here.