Nanaimo-Ladysmith’s teachers’ union president worries negotiations for a new collective agreement could result in the loss of more than 100 jobs in the school district.
The current contract expires June 30, and negotiations between B.C. Teachers’ Federation (provincial union) and the B.C. Ministry of Education are taking place with B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the bargaining agent, assisting. A mediator, David Schaub, has been appointed and Denise Wood, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said it isn’t binding mediation, but is Labour Relations Board-supervised.
The B.C. government is mandating three-year deals, with annual two-per cent wage increases, for public sector employees and Wood said BCTF seeks wage increases in line with that, with consideration for its special circumstances.
Wood believes what the BCTF is tabling on behalf of teachers would not have a big effect in Nanaimo, as she said the district is one of 20 that has class size and composition language resulting from a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling restoring those items. They were removed by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002.
“The province wants equity amongst school districts, but what we want to see is equity by levelling up and providing other school districts with those same good learning conditions,” said Wood. “What BCPSEA wants to do is level down and create worse conditions here in Nanaimo, so that they’re the same as other jurisdictions that don’t have class size and composition language, so in Nanaimo that would mean a loss of 110 full-time jobs and it would mean worse conditions for students and that’s not good enough.”
Wood said she has implored Sheila Malcolmson and Doug Routley, Nanaimo-area MLAs, and B.C. Premier John Horgan to invest more in education.
“One of the big factors is that the NDP government has put so little money on the table, so there’s no mandate or ability for the employer to negotiate service improvements,” said Wood. “That’s an issue and we’d like to see the NDP put their money where their mouth is because they have been talking about improved services for B.C. citizens and that needs to be education.”
In an e-mail, the ministry said it will take some give and take to find solutions that work for everyone and the appointment of a mediator is “an encouraging sign that both sides are negotiating in good faith towards a positive settlement.” The mediator is working with both sides to set bargaining dates moving forward and the parties are willing to negotiate through the summer, it said.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming was in Nanaimo recently and told the News Bulletin an agreement is sought that works for teachers, kids, parents and school communities.
“We’ll have some more negotiating to do and we’ll let that happen at the bargaining table, but I do note that both the [BCTF] and our provincial negotiation team are being cautiously optimistic that we can have a respectful discussion and conclude an agreement,” said Fleming. “Finally I would say with 220,000 public servants in a variety of unions having successfully negotiated contracts or tentative agreements, there’s no reason why this can’t happen with our professional teachers.”
If June 30 passes without a deal in place, Wood said there is “bridging language” offering guidance into next school year and no decisions related to job action will be made until August.
“Nobody wants to go on strike,” said Wood. “We want a deal and the ability’s there, it’s just the will.”
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools has budgeted for 867 full-time equivalent teachers for 2019-20.