Teachers Should Settle Now

Editorial, Victoria Times-Colonist, June 10, 2006

Teachers have demonstrated their resolve. Now the union should focus on getting a deal before June 30 so that members receive a signing bonus of about $3,700.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation reported Friday that more than 85 per cent of teachers voted to back a strike.

That's down from the 88-per-cent vote before last fall's walkout. But the union leadership still won a strong mandate for a school strike this fall.

Teachers might feel they have the support of parents and the public as they did last September. That would be a serious miscalculation.

So far, at least, the government has not bullied them into defiance. Much of what the teachers were fighting for last time -- such as lower class size and better composition -- has been at least partially achieved.

That means that despite teachers' protests, this dispute is largely about money. Parents, who as taxpayers have to supply that money, won't be so supportive this time around.

Neither will they be impressed by the teachers' claim -- acknowledged by the government -- that they are paid less than their colleagues in Alberta and Toronto. B.C. schools are performing strongly despite the discrepancies in teachers' salaries and benefits. There is no widespread shortage of teachers.

And there has been no exodus to Alberta.

Yet teachers have overwhelmingly supported their union's "contingency plans" for work stoppages and service withdrawal this fall.

There is no need for a strike. The parties appear far apart, with the employer offering eight per cent over four years and the union seeking 24 per cent over three years.

But the framework for a deal has been set by more than 50 public-sector contracts already signed. They provided increases of about 11 per cent over four years -- enough to match inflation -- plus signing bonuses of about $3,700, which reflected past wage freezes.

Teachers should tell their negotiators to get on with talks and grab the signing bonus before the offer runs out June 30.

Copyright, Victoria Times-Colonist, 2006