The past-president of the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association hopes teachers won’t be on the picket line in September as she awaits word on the state of contract talks at the provincial level.
Points of contention remain unchanged from January, when negotiations began, said KTTA past-president Amanda Jensen-LaBar, whose role is now second vice-president.
Laurel Macpherson is the teachers’ union new president for Kamloops-Thompson, but she is out of town this week.
Wage increases, and class size and composition language have been the main issues between government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation as negotiations linger through the summer, with the 2019-2020 school year about two weeks away.
Students are scheduled to return to class on Sept. 3.
Eight days of mediation are scheduled between the BC Public School Employers Association and the BCTF, from Aug. 21 to Aug. 23 and during the week of Aug. 26.
The negotiations will pick up where five days of mediated talks left off in July.
BCTF president Teri Mooring said there is no reason a deal can’t get done in those eight days, noting teachers want to start the school year with the security of a settled collective agreement.
The last contract between government and the BCTF was a five-year deal and expired on June 30. It came with a total 7.25 per cent raise. Classes were impacted by labour action in June and September of 2014 before the agreement was signed.
Talk of a strike is premature, Mooring said, but noted that is a conversation that will need to be had if there is no deal done by the end of the month.
“We’re pleased both sides have agreed to mediation. This is encouraging,” the Ministry of Education said in an emailed statement. “We’re optimistic that the parties will find
solutions and reach a deal that works for students, teachers and everyone in the school system.”
Teachers have to vote in favour of any strike action before it can proceed.
Locally, the KTTA and School District 73 haven’t met since May. They remain in a holding pattern until the results of 11th-hour talks at the provincial level.
“One of the big-ticket things that we’re looking at is the restoration of the two-week spring break, which is something we can negotiate locally,” said Jensen-LaBar, noting she feels there’s room to negotiate on that issue.
SD73 went to a two-week spring break for three years — from 2015 to 2017 — but returned to a one week break in 2018. At the time, the district said merging Easter and the break was one of the options on which staff and teachers could not agree.
The school district also suggested, without success, teachers move some professional development days outside of the regular school calendar to make up for the five days of instructional time that would be lost to the break.
Jensen-LaBar said negotiations between the KTTA and SD73 have been amicable.
“It’s maybe the closest that we’ve [ever] been on issues locally, but we still disagree on a number of things,” she said, noting those conversations will resume once the provincial talks conclude.
Jensen-LaBar said she couldn’t comment when asked what compensation teachers are seeking this time around.
The provincial government is negotiating public-sector contracts under its Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate, which calls for a three-year term with wage increases of two per cent each year.
According to the BCTF, wages for B.C. teachers are among the lowest in the country and need to be increased more than six per cent over three years in order to recruit and retain teachers.
The government mandate applies to all public-sector employees whose collective agreements expired on or after Dec. 31, 2018.
There have been 50 tentative and ratified settlements under this mandate, covering about 70 per cent of public-sector employees, including some 30,000 K-12 support staff, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education.