On their last day on the picket lines, teachers in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District reflected on the deal their union finally made with Victoria and whether their strike action was worth it.
“This is not a good deal. It’s just the best that we could hope for,” Trevor Takasaki, an English teacher and picket captain at Thomas Haney secondary, said Wednesday.
The pay increase, which amounts to 7.25 per cent over the six-year term, does not allow teachers to keep pace with inflation, he added.
“It’s totally demoralizing to have something that doesn’t even cover the cost of living, and to say that we know that in five years we’re going to be worse off than we are right now, and that’s supposed to be a victory for us? It’s not really a victory,” he said.
“The only way you can see this as a positive – and the feeling on the line – is the only victory is what the government was willing to do to us would have been far, far worse,” he added. “We’re all happy that we got a deal because I think most people figured the government was so determined to break the union that we were all counting on being out until mid October.”
Laurie Dwulit, the picket captain at Golden Ears elementary, said teachers can still win class size and composition improvements through the courts.
“We should accept this, because it’s our best bet. But we do need to continue to fight the fight, and hopefully we will have our time in court, and we can get some more support for our needy kids,” said Dwulit.
She said the teachers at her school are “semi-satisfied” with the pay increase.
“It’s close to what we asked for in our last proposal.”
Elementary teachers also received an increase in their preparation time from 90 minutes up to 100 per week.
“It’s the beginning of admitting that we do need more prep time for elementary,” said Dwulit. “It’s the first time we’ve had a bump in a long time.”
She said teachers are likely nervous to not support the deal, because of the “climate” of the negotiations.
The deal also sets up a $400 million fund to hire new teachers over the six years, which will lead to the addition of some 850 new BCTF positions each year. Teachers don’t see that as going far enough, and point out that the government was already putting as much as $75 million per year into its Learning Improvement fund.
“A lot of people are feeling that it’s not really a victory,” said Westview teacher Mel Harris, who has two young children in the public school system. “It’s probably better than what we expected – it’s better than being legislated back. But it still doesn’t address learning conditions adequately.”
The six-year deal will see Harris’ children through to the end of elementary school, but this contract won’t give them the classroom support they need. She has volunteered in her children’s classrooms, and what she sees reinforces that the system needs more resources.
“I’m already noticing with my son, who is going into Grade 2, that one of the biggest things he’s learned in school is to stop asking questions,” she said.
“He doesn’t raise his hand anymore, because he’s not a really needy student. His teachers have been fantastic, but they’re so busy dealing with the kids with higher needs. His hand gets tired, and his question is not that important, so he just moves on to something else.”
The BCTF negotiators managed to protect the progress they have made in the courts in their effort to restore class size and composition language to the contract. That language was stripped by the provincial government in 2002, and twice the courts have ruled that the government violated teachers’ charter rights in doing so.
The government is appealing the case before the B.C. Court of Appeal in October.
The provincial government tried to inject a contract clause, the contentious E80, which outlined the government proposal for class size and composition, and would overrule teacher court victories.
The government contends that a return to 2002 class size language would be unaffordable for the province.
To get a deal, the government took E80 off the table, but the contract does have a clause that allows either side to reopen the agreement once the court case is settled.
Kirsten Urdahl-Serr, an Maple Ridge secondary math teacher, said getting E80 out of the contract should not be viewed as a victory.
“It shouldn’t have been on the table to begin with. That’s not a win. It’s an illegal statement on the table. It’s in contravention of the charter of rights and freedoms. It shouldn’t have even been there. The fact we have to negotiate it off is ridiculous to begin with. We have to negotiate out an illegal clause?
Still, Takasaki called getting rid of E80 “a hugely important thing.”
“We would lose a 12-year battle in court, and sign that away.”
Liz Williams, also an MRSS math teacher, echoed a commonly heard sentiment – she’s glad it’s all over.
“I think we want to be back in teaching. We don’t want to lose any more time. I don’t really feel that we’ve gained anything, but I’m fearful that we will lose even more if we’re out here,” Williams said on the picket line.
Teachers were expecting to know the results of their ratification vote Thursday night. They all anticipated it would be passed. The union recommended ratification.
Key terms of the teachers’ contract:
• 7.25 per cent raise over six years;
• $400 million into an education fund, which will include hiring some 850 teachers each year;
• $105 million to settle grievances from court cast;
• $11.9 million improved health and dental benefits;
• 10 more minutes per week elementary prep time.
Back to class
If all parties ratify the tentative agreement, School District No. 42 will be welcoming students on Monday.
District staff anticipates that, as is usually the case, this opening day will be a partial day. More specific information about the length of this day will be posted to school websites by Friday.
While the district is planning a gradual entry procedure for kindergarten students, as usual, the two-week process will be shortened this year due to the late start. Tuesday, Sept. 30 will be the first full day for kindergarten students.
Additional info about gradual entry and specific dates will again be posted to school websites by end of this week.
The Board of Education decided to postpone its planned Sept. 22 and 23 non-instructional days to a later date.