Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Binding Arbitration Would - and Should - End the BC Teachers’ Strike

BCTF President Jim Iker lets Jack Glover make his point at BC Federation of Labour rally last Friday! - Geoff Peters photo

And why the BC Liberal government is scared school-less of arbitration – hint: it’s not wages and benefits

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 9, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"When will mankind be convinced and agree to settle their difficulties by arbitration?"
- Benjamin Franklin, writer, politician, inventor, 1706-1790
Don't believe the reasons Education Minister Peter Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark give for their rapid rejection of binding arbitration to settle the teachers' dispute. This is the game changer.
Dismiss their contention that the BC Teachers' Federation's demands for wages and benefits is the reason they can't go to binding arbitration. It isn't.
The BC Liberals do not fear arbitration could give teachers more than other public sector workers. They know it won't.
Any arbitrator will award teachers the same wage increases as other government workers -- 5.5 per cent over five years, plus some compensation for not receiving any wage increases for years when other employees received modest raises.
The government is scared school-less that the B.C. Supreme Court decision restoring class size and composition clauses -- illegally stripped from the BCTF contract by Clark and former premier Gordon Campbell back in 2002 -- will be upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal and/or the Supreme Court of Canada.
The true reason the government rejected binding arbitration? It doesn't want to spend money on putting more resources into classrooms for students with special needs and reducing class size.

It's a harsh reality, but the evidence is clear. And if parents and others want kids back in school before November, they must loudly demand the government accept binding arbitration while letting justice take its course.
Wages aren't the problem
First, while wages and benefits are a major cost item, they are also budgeted. The government anticipated there would be a salary increase for teachers, and allocated that amount in this fiscal year and the following ones.
Second, hiring hundreds more teachers and putting more resources into classrooms is indeed expensive.
Third, despite this government going recklessly into deep debt -- from $33.8 billion in 2001, to $45 billion when Clark became premier in 2011, to $61 billion now -- it doesn't want to invest in education, only buildings, bridges and liquefied natural gas.
Those investments are worthy and help pay for public services, but in the long term we also need better-educated workers participating in all sectors of the economy to prosper.
Judging from some media and other commentary, the teachers' union has failed to convey the message that wages and benefits are not the problem by not removing some of those bargaining package items much earlier.
But that doesn't matter now, because an arbitrator can decide them.
In addition, claims by the B.C. government that it has been stung by arbitrated wage settlements in the past, primarily with doctors, are a red herring.
In that arbitration, doctors argued their compensation had fallen dramatically behind their counterparts in Alberta.
But in the teachers' dispute, where all other public sector provincial government workers have taken the same wage increase, an arbitrator will undoubtedly follow that pattern.
Arbitration has worked before
Teacher arbitration wouldn't break new ground in B.C., either. In 1993, the New Democrat government brought in legislation to end a local teachers' strike in the Vancouver School District through binding arbitration.
Then NDP Premier Mike Harcourt outlined the arguments succinctly in the B.C. Legislature:
"However, as well as the responsibility to facilitate the parties in free collective bargaining, the provincial government has another important responsibility: to assess when collective bargaining is in difficulty and the public interest is at risk.
"In recent days the government, through the Minister of Labour, has made significant efforts to assist the parties to the dispute in Vancouver in resolving their difficulties. A mediator was appointed by government.
"That mediator was then designated as a special mediator. There was a full and public release of the recommendations of the special mediator and, finally, an invitation to both the school board and teachers to agree to voluntary binding arbitration.
"The Minister of Labour, to his credit, has fulfilled his responsibilities by exhausting all of the possibilities that could lead the parties to an agreement.
"It became evident on Friday that bargaining in the Vancouver district was paralyzed and that our children were paying the price. Only through the actions of this government could I ensure that the children in Vancouver would be back in school tomorrow.
"This bill takes clear action to end the dispute in Vancouver and get those students back to school. It also ensures the expeditious resolution of the other outstanding disputes."
Today's BC Liberal government still has two viable choices: negotiate a deal on class size and compensation as well as all other issues, or let binding arbitration and the courts decide.
But so far it has proven unwilling to go either way, preferring a lengthy strike that might end with a legislatively imposed contract rejected by teachers.
That would likely mean an illegal strike, more court confrontation, additional classroom disruption and abysmal morale for teachers and students.

Surely neutral third party arbitration and the justice system are a better alternative?

.

9 comments:

Nestaken Squire said...

Well Sir William another charter in the soap opera on the teachers and the stubborn lieberals. I have commented in the past as to my support for the Teachers as they appear to be operating in the best interests of the public. The opposite must be typed as to mrs. clark and her lieberal associates or puppets would be a better description. Why will the rank, file and backbenchers in that party smell the coffee and demand an end to the selfish political demands of mrs clark.? Could it be that she feels superior and above the law as outlined in court cases. YES.

Anonymous said...

Binding Arbitration is a gamble. Is the BCTF willing to accept the outcome if it comes out not the way they expected? Would thins finally end the impasse that has plagued the education system for 20 years?

ONe figures the BCTF and Labour plus their supporters would go for binding arbitration on the aspect that the outcome would favour the teachers.

That many not happen.

It's also a gamble for the government side too. If it does come out favouring the teachers where is the money going to come from?

It has worked but not 100%. It did work for the BC Ferries strike, which did have to be resolved quickly and expeditiously. but the outcome in regards to doctors resulted in huge additional health care costs.

Going back to Dave Barrett days isn't all that applicable in this day and age.

Cocoabean said...

The ultimate, real danger is a future of COURTS forcibly mandating working conditions and class sizes, usurping the role of the legislature, dictating spending and tax rates and effectively setting policy.

Arbitration would amount to a similar loss of control, handing what should be the prerogative of the elected legislature to some individual.

Give this government credit: they are prepared to suffer the slings and arrows (albeit largely of vested interests) to ensure that this does not happen.

Anonymous said...

"The ultimate, real danger is a future of COURTS forcibly mandating working conditions and class sizes, usurping the role of the legislature, dictating spending and tax rates and effectively setting policy."

Bit of a stretch there. The courts cannot set class sizes or working conditions. The courts cannot set tax rates nor policy.


"Arbitration would amount to a similar loss of control, handing what should be the prerogative of the elected legislature to some individual."

It's either binding arbitration, a negotiated settlement or back to work legislation.

The impasse has to end. It's getting to the ridiculous level now.




Give this government credit: they are prepared to suffer the slings and arrows (albeit largely of vested interests) to ensure that this does not happen.

Nestaken Squire said...

I responded to your all comments and then some others have responded. Guess I am in the minority as to comments so far in this addition. The supporters for the teachers position have not offered their opinion as to the subject which has been well discussed and your offering have been the best. I see no need to comment further as all appear to have closed minds and are for one side or the other. At best I read, Teachers are right, lieberal are wrong. Is it now fourteen years that they have ruined this province with their policies that support only their corporate buddies that donate to their cause. In closing, I and others thank you for exposing the foolish and damaging position. Thank you for posting my comments as it is an outlet to relieve the frustration I have regarding the stupidity.

Anonymous said...

"Is it now fourteen years that they have ruined this province with their policies that support only their corporate buddies that donate to their cause."

It actually goes back about 20 years. VanderZalm gave the BCTF the right to strike.

"Thank you for posting my comments as it is an outlet to relieve the frustration I have regarding the stupidity."

I gather wavering and rambling commentary does diffuse self-inflected frustration.

Others just perpetually whine about everything that isn't NDP or left wing.


Anonymous said...

I support arbitration. The teachers have agreed to accept an arbitrator's ruling. Legislating them back will only bring on more pushing back from them. I do not want any more of my tax dollars spent on legal contests and wrangling. The government should not be afraid of arbitration. It will save them money in the long run as the teachers will not be able to contest that ruling. It will also get the teachers back into the classroom sooner than legislation if it is agreed to now.

Anonymous said...

"I support arbitration. The teachers have agreed to accept an arbitrator's ruling."

Sort of. They'll accept it, but there will still be complaining esp if their demands are not met 100% The aspect of their saying they would accept the results of binding arbitration is just a show. They expect the results to be in their favour.


"Legislating them back will only bring on more pushing back from them. "

Kind of childish on their part. It's like the kid who doesn't get his way and is told "go to your room!"


"I do not want any more of my tax dollars spent on legal contests and wrangling. "

Agree there, the taxpayers have had enough of the BCTF (and the BC Liberals) on this wrangling of education which has gone on for 20 years.

"The government should not be afraid of arbitration. It will save them money in the long run as the teachers will not be able to contest that ruling."

Maybe not, but if it isn't in their favour, they'll want a catch up in the next negotiation round and guess what? We start all over again.


"It will also get the teachers back into the classroom sooner than legislation if it is agreed to now."

Legislation takes only one day to pass the House. If it was presented this morning, it would have passed early evening and classes would start Monday.

Nestaken Squire said...

I must thank that Anonymous at 9:53 on this Sept 12th. I agree 101 %.