It’s a deal…almost

Teachers: BCTF members to vote on negotiated settlement

There may finally be some light for those who have been in the dark about public education in B.C.

At 4:23 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) tweeted that a tentative deal had been reached between the union and its employer, the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, though details of that agreement had not been released as of the Mirror’s press deadline.

The teachers will now look at the deal and hold a ratification vote. If the deal is ratified, it is thought that schools could reopen early next week.

Campbell River District Teachers’ Association President Dave Harper said Tuesday morning that the offer still needs to have a few specifics nailed down, but he’d be receiving it soon and members will have a general meeting and ratification vote on Thursday to decide if it will be accepted.

Once accepted, Harper said, teachers would need about four days to get classes ready to be in session once the vote takes place, meaning Tuesday would be about as early as full classes could resume, assuming the Thursday vote is 50 per cent plus one (or more) in favour.

The deal comes after months of stalled talks – when there were any talks at all – press conferences with one side slamming the other, rallies and support walks in communities all across the province and online message boards and articles with comment sections full of accusations and acrimony.

Just the day before the agreement was reached, for example, a rally was held in downtown Campbell River by a grassroots-organized band of parents and children who took to the streets with signs and chants.

They were met by both honks of support and jeers of, “get back to work!” from those they passed.

The Campbell River, Courtenay and District Labour Council also held a “Community Picnic” barbecue on Sept. 11 in Spirit Square, where it accepted donations to put toward the BCTF Hardship Fund.

These events followed close on the heels of an $8-million interest-free loan received from the BC Federation of Labour and multiple donations from other sources, such as $600,000 from the BC Nurses’ Union to help the teachers financially while they continued their dispute without pay.

“This has been a really long struggle that engaged a lot of B.C.,” Harper said, pointing not only to the support from other unions and organizations but from the communities themselves that were affected by the struggle.

“Despite the government’s attempts to divide us as a community with ridiculous social media and PR campaigns, we stuck together and did what was best for the kids and for education as an institution.

“I have to give my undying thanks to the people and community of Campbell River for all their support as they went through this.”

If this deal is ratified by the teachers, it will be the third negotiated contract in the last 20 years, when province-wide bargaining was introduced in 1994.

Previous agreements were reached in 2006 and 2012.

Harper said he can’t speak for how the upcoming ratification vote will turn out, however.

“You’re not going to see the kind of support that the arbitration vote got (99.4 per cent),” he said. “There are going to be teachers that look at it, no matter what it has in it, and say, ‘no, that’s not good enough,’ because the nature of bargaining is that some of what they were fighting for will have come off the table, and they’ve given up a ton already.”

By far the most important thing Harper will be looking at when he sees the offer is that the results of the court case currently under appeal by the government that dictates teachers’ right to negotiate class size and composition is not affected by any agreement.

“I’m confident that court ruling will have remained unfettered for it to even be considered and put before the members,” said Harper.

If there is anything in the agreement that will contradict that court ruling, he said, not only would it not likely have made it through to a vote, but would almost certainly be voted down by membership if it did.

Keep watching the Campbell River Mirror and for details on the contract and ratification vote as well as any news on schools reopening.