Teachers don’t apologize for asking for fair treatment

After reading Tom Fletcher’s column published in the Campbell River Mirror in early August, I felt that a response to some of his teacher bashing was needed

After reading Tom Fletcher’s column published in the Campbell River Mirror in early August, I felt that a response to some of his teacher bashing was needed.

I realize that Mr. Fletcher is a columnist presenting his opinions and does not follow the same guidelines as actual journalists who must present honest and balanced articles to the public. He sarcastically criticizes the BCTF proposals at the bargaining table for wage increases and contract improvements. But he fails to mention several crucial distinctions between teachers and other B.C. public sector workers who have recently settled contracts.

First of all, not all public sector workers have settled within the so-called “Zero mandate”. Both nurses and police officers recently settled for close to nine per cent over three years. Keep in mind that that probably will not even keep up to cost of living increases.

But more importantly, only B.C. teachers have been working under an illegally stripped contract for the past decade. In the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, it is shown that the government illegally stripped our contract in January 2002 and deprived teachers of both the benefits of the contract and of their charter rights as Canadians. The main clauses that were stripped were the limits on class size and composition. When teachers had bargained these clauses, they were so important to the learning conditions in classrooms that we agreed to a 0-0-2 wage mandate in exchange. So we not only lost these important provisions when the contract was stripped, but we also failed to receive a wage increase that would even keep up to the cost of living. Both teachers and students have suffered the consequences ever since with thousands of oversized classes and classes in which there is not enough support for the many special needs students. So the government has saved money both by cutting the number of teachers, and by not increasing teacher wages. Furthermore, the percentage of our GDP spent on funding for public education has decreased significantly in the last decade. The result is that the needs of all students are not being met, in particular those with special needs.

Only teachers have been subject to this illegal action for a decade which has not been rectified by the government or by our direct employers.

As well, Mr. Fletcher failed to mention that B.C. teachers are the lowest paid teachers west of Quebec as shown by the independent mediator who settled the Saskatchewan teachers’ strike this year (they received an increase of 8.8 per cent over the next three years). In fact, the mediator stated that the wages of B.C. teachers were so much lower than the other western provinces that they significantly brought down the average when he tried to arrive at a fair increase for Saskatchewan. And let’s not forget that we have the highest cost of living in Canada while being eighth in our wage levels in all provinces of Canada.

It is important for the future of our education system to be on par with other provinces not only to attract new teachers to B.C., but also to retain the ones we have. Imagine going to university for five years, graduating with $20-30,000 in debt on average, and then starting your employment at around $47,000 per year on a 10 year grid. Graduates can easily earn twice that initial amount in the private sector, and increase their wages much more quickly.

We need to attract excellent graduates to teaching. Very few men go into teaching anymore, and large numbers of young teachers burn out and leave the profession in the first five years when they find a job with better pay and a lot less stress.

As far as being able to afford these wage increases, please keep in mind two things. The B.C. government can always find lots of money for projects they want to fund. Take the retractable roof on B.C. Place  which doesn’t even work in the rain as a good example. Secondly, in spite of global economics,the Liberal government largely created this funding crises with their regressive tax policies for both income tax and especially corporate taxes, which are now not only the lowest in North America, but also in all of the G8 countries. I don’t think that teachers are the ones who are “isolated from reality.”

I hope that all teachers will realize they do not need to apologize for asking to be treated legally and fairly.

Elaine Thompson

Vice-President, Campbell River District Teachers’ Association