While the BCTF Executive Committee is recommending a “Yes” vote, former STA President, Gioia Breda, recommends voting “No”. She writes:
In my 20 years of teaching, I have participated in every ratification vote since becoming a BCTF member in 2002, the year that our Collective Agreements were first stripped, and I have voted NO in many of them. I have always hoped more colleagues would join me. This agreement is no different. As a senior teacher, I stand to benefit greatly from salary increases over the next three years, yet I am compelled to vote NO. With no substantial improvements to our working conditions, and a contract that once again leaves our Adult Education colleagues as “ asterisk educators”, I cannot vote in favour.
Ratification votes should not be confused with strike votes. When the union calls for a strike mandate, it is imperative for everyone to come out, and to vote yes, to show our employer that we stand in solidarity together, that we are committed to engaging in some kind of job action together, up to and including a full withdrawal of our services. A strong yes vote to approve a strike mandate is an essential tool for the union and our negotiating team.
This is not the vote we have before us. We are being asked if we approve of the contract negotiated by the BCTF and BCPSEA. In many areas, it is a good deal. While the salary increase doesn’t meet inflation, it is more than has been achieved in years. The inclusion of registered clinical counsellors and social workers as “Care Providers” in our benefits package will be helpful to many. But it is silent on far too many important issues.
I cannot approve of a contract that does not address working conditions. Despite having our stripped language reinstated in 2016, it is clear in schools across the province that the reinstated language has not been appropriately implemented, and actually needs to be improved upon. Yet BCPSEA refuses to even contemplate improvements to help districts with the weakest language, without first stripping superior language from other local agreements, like that of Surrey’s. Our colleagues are burning out, calling the STA Office in droves. There isn’t enough support in our classrooms and schools, and violence in our classrooms is on the rise. The most recent edition of the Advocate highlights the distress we are collectively feeling about our working conditions, and it is only November. Can you accept 3 more years of this? I cannot.
I cannot approve of a contract that does not address caseloads for Learning Support Teachers for another 3 years. Our colleagues in LST have been drowning for the last 20 years. The needs of their students are immense and the pressure on LSTs to support more vulnerable learners with increasingly complex challenges is overwhelming. How long will we make them wait to have some contractual boundaries in place?
I cannot approve of a contract that refuses, yet again, to make Adult-educators whole. For well over 2 decades, teachers in Adult-ed have been treated like second-class members of our profession despite having the same certification as those teaching in the K-12 system. Teachers working in Adult-ed in Surrey are not paid on statutory holidays. They do not have paid prep time or professional development days. Adult educators have been collectively screaming for us to pay attention to the incredible inequity of their situation. Leaving this group of colleagues behind for another round is not acceptable.
After teaching in BC for 2 decades, I have no reason to believe that this contract won’t be ratified. BCTF President Clint Johnson has come out strongly in favour of ratification, and I expect that most of my colleagues will vote in favour of it. But that doesn’t mean that a NO vote is meaningless. This ratification process is our Union asking a sincere question, and all feedback is meaningful. Even if the contract is successfully ratified, a significant number of members voting NO still sends a message and serves as guidance for our bargaining committee as it prepares for future rounds of negotiation. There is power in a narrow YES vote.
While I don’t approve of the contract, this does not mean I don’t approve of the work done by our colleagues on our provincial Bargaining Committee. I believe that they did the best that they could, and there are in fact some important gains. My NO vote is not about the bargaining team’s efforts, but BCPSEA’s unreasonableness with respect to working conditions and continued sub-standard language for our colleagues in Adult-Ed.
So, I ask you:
- Do you approve of a contract that does not address working conditions because BCPSEA refuses to contemplate improvements without first eviscerating superior class-size and composition language like that of Surrey’s?
- Do you approve of a contract that does not address caseloads for LST teachers for another 3 years?
- Do you approve of a contract that does not make-whole our colleagues in Adult-Ed.?
If you cannot feel good about voting in favour, then I urge you to join me in voting NO.