Mediator Vince Ready arrives to meet with B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker and B.C. Public School Employers' Association negotiator Peter Cameron in Richmond

Mediator Vince Ready arrives to meet with B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jim Iker and B.C. Public School Employers' Association negotiator Peter Cameron in Richmond

A new peace? Six-year deal for B.C. teachers

A new peace? Longest deal in decades could end lengthiest B.C. teachers' strike

By Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s long-warring government and teachers’ union have made unprecedented educational labour peace with a six-year collective agreement wrought through months of embittered strike action and a final six-day sprint to settlement.

The historic deal, if ratified by teachers in a vote on Thursday, will reopen schools next week for half a million students, restore the flow of income to more than 40,000 teachers and renew stability for families provincewide.

A breakthrough in negotiations came with the aid of respected mediator Vince Ready just before 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The result is a tentative contract that includes a 7.25 per cent salary increase over six years, as well as the creation of a $400-million education fund that will be used to hire additional teachers to address class size, class composition and the provision of specialist teachers, states a document sent to members Tuesday night.

The document says the education fund will begin this academic year and end in the 2018 to 2019 academic year.

Premier Christy Clark beamed and patted Education Minister Peter Fassbender on the back as she thanked students and parents for their patience, and lauded union president Jim Iker for showing “real courage.”

“I think it’s a real game-changer for education in the long-term,” Clark told reporters in Vancouver, adding it’s an opportunity to reset a 30-year dysfunctional relationship with the union.

“We will now be able to sit down with some of the most important people in the system — and that’s teachers — and work together, rather than constantly arguing and fighting.”

The premier said the deal doesn’t require any tax hikes, although the province will continue to appeal a court case a judge has already decided in favour of the union’s right to bargain class size and composition.

That dispute dates back to January 2002, when the provincial government imposed a contract on teachers and remove hundreds of provisions related to class size and class composition from the teachers’ collective agreement, while also prohibiting those issues from being part of future negotiations.

In April 2011, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the 2002 legislation removing class size and composition from bargaining was unconstitutional. The court ruling restored the deleted provisions and gave the government one year to come up with a fix.

In January 2014, a B.C. Supreme Court judge again ruled the provincial government violated teachers’ collective bargaining rights by removing clauses related to class size and class composition and by prohibiting those issues from being negotiated. The ruling also awarded the union $2 million.

The government filed an appeal in April.

A document sent to BCTF members from the union Tuesday says the $400-million education fund is subject to a final ruling on that case.

“If the 2002 language is fully or partially restored the parties will reopen the collective agreement on this issue and will bargain from the restored language,” says the document.

It says the education fund provisions will continue until there is agreement on implementation and, or changes to the restored language.

Iker, who’s acted as chief negotiator during the lengthy and heated dispute, addressed the B.C. Teachers’ Federation before the document was sent out and urged union members to vote Yes.

“You’ve worked hard, you’ve persisted, and you’ve been courageous,” he said in a live-streamed news conference watched by thousands. “I know the last few months have been tough. But it was our collective effort that made today possible.”

Along with improvements in salary and extended health and dental benefits, the deal strikes out the contentious E80 clause around class size and composition, Iker said.

He expressed hope the deal will lay a new path towards mending the union’s tumultuous rapport with the province.

“We’ll also work hard to see if we can start developing a better relationship with this government and any government.”

Administrators anticipate that Monday would be the earliest schools could open, but boards will make their own decisions, likely resulting in a staggered start to the fall term.

Vancouver School Board chairwoman Patti Bacchus said if the contract is approved, the board will launch classes as quickly as possible. Principals have already been making preparations, she said.

“We’re fairly well-prepared,” Bacchus said, adding many teachers still have to tidy up from June because the strike began two weeks before summer break.

“It’s going to be bumpy for sure and people are going to have to be a little bit patient, but I know there’s a great desire to get back.”

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the ministry was working with superintendents to make up the lost time, with a special emphasis on ensuring Grade 11 and 12 students’ needs will be accommodated. Iker panned the cancellation of professional development days as a route to the remedy.

Ig Cheung, a long-time teacher in Surrey, said he’s relieved by the negotiated agreement and intends to read it closely before deciding on his vote.

“I’m just hoping we haven’t given up too much,” he said.

Chung said that with morale waning on the picket lines, he’s not certain all his colleagues will return to the job wholeheartedly.

“This is going to be a very different year,” he said. “Some teachers, after all this, may just go and teach. They (will) forego extracurriculars like running clubs, coaching teams.”

Representing parents, Nicole Makohoniuk, president of the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, said the body wants future negotiations to begin well in advance of the contract’s expiry date. She hopes that will help speed the healing process.

“B.C. still has the top education program, in my opinion, in Canada. I think (teachers) move forward,” she said. “They move on. Yes, they’re hurt, and yes, they forgive, but they don’t forget. That’s the biggest thing.”

Grade 12 student Queena Zeng said she expects everyone is feeling overwhelmed, but she’s optimistic that moods will brighten once classes get into gear.

“At the end of the day, everyone has to try to get back together,” she said. “It’s not just the teachers, but also the students and the admin. Everyone working together.”

Talks resumed last week as a group of unions offered $8.5 million in loans and donations to struggling teachers, while the government softened its opposition to back-to-work legislation.

B.C. governments of all political affiliations have struggled with the BCTF for control over educational policy for decades, resulting in the present-day work stoppage that takes the title of longest provincewide strike in its history.

_ Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

Just Posted

RCMP thanked the public for assistance in finding Benjamin Archie, last seen in Princeton. (RCMP)
Missing Chilliwack man found safe and sound

The 80-year-old had walked away from his home in Chilliwack

.
Princeton’s Spotlight wins two provincial awards for excellence

Publisher takes first place for investigative reporting

Princeton GSAR responds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2020 the crew was called out 34 times, and members spent 721 hours on calls, and 683 hours training. Photo Princeton GSAR Facebook
Teen missing in Manning Park found after 24 hours

Young man spends night on mountain and survives with just a few scrapes

The COVID-19 cases reported over the week of May 30 to June 5. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees second straight week of 17 new COVID-19 cases

Summerland, Keremeos and Princeton all recorded no new cases

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has hired a new FireSmart coordinator. (Black Press file photo)
FireSmart coordinator named for Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen

Kerry Riess will provide assistance to mitigate potential wildfire hazards

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

18-year-old skier Logan Leach follows his guide, Julien Petit, down an alpine track. The Lumby athlete who is visually impaired has been named to Alpine Canada’s Ski Team ahead of the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. (Contributed)
North Okanagan teen named to national Para-Alpine ski team

18-year-old Logan Leach officially joins Canada’s Para-Alpine roster ahead of Beijing 2022

Carina Stokes, bar manager at Enderby’s Small Axe Bistro, was recognized as one of four exceptional B.C. restaurant workers by the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Contributed)
Okanagan bar manager recognized as ‘stand-up’ B.C. restaurant worker

Small Axe Roadhouse’s Carina Stokes one of four to receive special recognition from the BCRFA

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Most Read