Saturday, January 7, 2012

Should BC teachers get a salary increase? Myths & Realities

BC teachers are in contract negotiations asking for a fair deal. What do we mean by fair exactly?

Teachers would like improvements in three areas: class size/composition, salary and benefits, and changes to the bargaining structure.

As far as class size, we want only what was taken in 2002. We want the government to go back to the class sizes in place at that time and restore the funding so Boards can achieve this.

For bargaining, we want to negotiate more items locally with our elected Boards. This facilitates diversity, community involvement, and local programs and solutions. It is not a cost item and is how teachers used to negotiate in the 1990's - very successfully.

For salary and benefits, teachers want to "keep up" and "catch up". What do we mean by that? We want to keep up with inflation, and we want to catch up with Canadians in other provinces. Teachers in BC now rank 8th in salaries across Canada, despite the fact that our cost of living is one of the highest and that BC weathered the recession better than most other provinces. BC has been out of recession since 2010 and is forecasting moderate growth for the next year.

Unfortunately, the government's position has and continues to be 'net zero'. The government claims that taxpayers cannot afford increases to public sector wages and that wages must remain flat because the government is running a deficit.

Do these arguments make sense? Are they justified? Or should teachers receive a wage increase?

Here are my answers to these questions.

Myth #1: Teachers should not get a wage increase because of the government deficit

Reality #1: There was no deficit when the Liberals took power in 2001. Through a series of income tax cuts and corporate tax cuts, the Liberals went from a surplus to a deficit. Yes, the recession of 2009 impacted government revenues. But not as much as tax cuts have. Moreover, the government has found plenty of money for spending when it feels the spending is a priority. There was money for the BC Place roof ($500 million). There was money for the Olympics (over $1 billion). There was money for smart meters ($900 million). There was money for new government network systems ($1.2 billion to Telus). There seems to be plenty of money for the CEO's of crown corporations like BC Ferries (David Hahn's pension value - over $10 million). The fact is that the government is using the deficit that it created as an excuse to take money away from public services and the people who provide them. The money is there. It is a matter of priorities.

It is simply unfair to make one group of workers pay for a deficit created by tax cuts to other people and corporations. Private sector workers are seeing increases. Other public sector workers are seeing increases (for example, Vancouver police with 8.8% over 33 months). Why should one group be singled out? Moreover how is it fair to make middle income earners pay for tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy and corporations? It just isn't.

Myth #2: The 'net zero' wage freeze is fair because it impacts all public sector workers

Reality #2: Only those workers covered by the Public Sector Employer's Council are impacted, and that does not include all public sector workers. Fire fighters are not under 'net zero'. Police are not under 'net zero'. Even school Superintendents are not under 'net zero'. Nurses are not under 'net zero' because they negotiated in 2009, supposedly before the 'net zero' mandate was implemented, but certainly at the height of the recession. How is it fair that these workers can negotiate increases and other workers can't?

Myth #3: BC teachers already have high salaries

Reality #3: After five years of university training, BC teachers begin with a wage in the low $40's, if they are full time. Many teachers only get part time work for the first 3-5 years of their career. It takes ten years of full time work to reach the maximum salary, which is about $75,000 for most teachers. BC teachers rank 8th in Canada compared to teachers in other provinces. A teacher in BC earns on average $20,000 less than a comparably experienced teacher in Alberta and $15,000 less than one in Ontario. Yet BC has the highest cost of living and the highest housing prices in the country (http://www.theprovince.com/business/City+house+prices+continue+ascent/5943834/story.html).

Myth #4: 'Net zero' isn't a pay cut, so it is fair

Reality #4: In September, when the new school year began, year over year inflation was at 3.2% according to the Consumer Price Index. When teachers got their first paycheque of the year, they had 3.2% less buying power. This is what matters. This January, teachers, along with other workers, will see increases to their CPP payments, their EI premiums, and their MSP premiums. Many contracts have automatic cost of living increases, but ours does not. Without any increase, teachers will fall behind.

Myth #5: Teachers are asking for too much

Reality #5: Teachers want to keep up with inflation. Teachers want to catch up with their colleagues in other provinces. Teachers took four years of zero increases since 1998. Teachers traded salary for smaller class sizes and those class size provisions were later eliminated. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for cost of living increases and wage adjustments to catch up with our Canadian colleagues.

Myth #6: Teachers are asking for $2 billion

Reality #6: The true number is probably many times less. BCPSEA (the employer) made many erroneous assumptions in order to come up with a hyper-inflated costing number. For example, they assumed that every single teacher would take their full bereavement leave entitlement every single year. In fact, teachers often take bereavement leave once or twice a decade or once or twice in their whole career. They assumed every teacher would take extra sick days if they were available. In fact, we know from Statistics Canada that teachers take an average of 7.7 days per year which is already less than their entitlement, so increased entitlement would only be used by a small percentage of teachers who become very ill. The assumptions used by BCPSEA were unrealistic and result in highly inflated costing estimates. They are not justified and do not reflect the true cost of the proposals teachers have put forward.

25 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I think it should be sent as "letter to the editor" to newspapers in major cities in BC to inform those who see government figures or reports and take it as truth without questioning it.
    Well done!

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  2. Excellent summary of our situation. "Even school Superintendents are not under 'net zero"; SD59 Superintendant sent a letter to parents saying gross modo that we were (teachers) selfish and without social empathy toward public sector for not swallowing the "net zero" !

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  3. Thank you!

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  4. Well I have come from Alberta and previous Ontario and Your teacher need to better then other provinces. You are way behind Alberta in education. My daughter in October of her grade one year knows more then mine son has in his second year at a BC school. You need to fix something in your school system because you are falling behind. In the 2 and half years my daughter has been in the BC school system she is at the same reading, writing and math. I know why people homeschool and put their kids in the private school system, the public is so broken it can't complete with the rest of Canada.

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    1. How can you tell if your children are at the same level when you cannot spell, use appropriate grammar or form a proper sentence????

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    2. Teachers cannot be held solely responsible for your child's lack of progress. It would appear as though you could benefit from some additional education. Where were you educated? I agree with Anonymous, learn to spell and form a proper sentence before giving your opinion on the state of education. Thanks for wasting even more of my prep time on your uneducated and ignorant point of view.

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    3. Wow - I think that the original author has a legitimate complaint. I have a graduate degree and I completely agree that the level of education my children have received in the public school system is deplorable. AND REALLY - if someone is illiterate or unable to formulate a sentence correctly on a blog post does that mean that his/her child does not deserve a proper education! GIVE ME A BREAK - and please refrain from making personal attacks on people who voice a contrary opinion. It only demonstrates your small mindedness.

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  5. I think you mean:

    I came from Alberta and previously Ontario, and teachers in BC need to teach better than other provinces. You are much behind Alberta in terms of education. My daughter knew more in October of her grade one year than my son, who was in his second year enrolled at a BC school. You need to fix features of your school system, because you are falling behind. In the two and half years my daughter has been enrolled in the BC school system, she has remained at the same level of reading, writing and math. I now know why people homeschool their children and enroll their kids in the private school system. The public system is so broken that it can no longer complete with the rest of Canada.

    - A BC public school teacher

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    1. I think you mean "compete" not complete. And you're a teacher?

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    2. Wow. How petty. An entire paragraph is corrected with one spelling error in the final sentence and you decide to focus on it as being the "issue with teachers". What has our society come to?

      Signed a Fellow BC Teacher

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    3. I taught in Ontario before moving to BC to teach and I don't see a whole lot of difference. There are good and bad teachers in both places. In fact, BC has stricter education requirements, I had to go back to get a few more undergrad courses.

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  6. I live in SD 59 and the letter the superintendent sent home did not say that teachers were "selfish or without social empathy."
    ~Parent

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  7. Quote: From superintendent SD#59:
    "...With regard to the strike, some of the confusing information parents are receiving sounds like the teacher's strike is about the size and composition of classes, or the resources that are available for students with special needs. That is not true. The issues around class size and resourcing have been separate and are "NOT" part of the bargaining.
    The full focus of the BCTF strike demands is about wages and benefits that are approaching a price tag of 3 billion dollars. That is a 75% increase, at a time in the economy that the Province has told all union the overall settlement of their bargaining cannot increase cost to the Province. Moreover, 3/4 of the public unions have settled contracts under those rules."
    These 2 paragraphs speak by themselves about how teachers are perceived
    by the superintendent.

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  8. http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/psec/disclosure/disclosure10-11.htm

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  9. Please send this wonderful article to a newspaper so some of the nasty myths can be dispelled. Awesome job!

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  10. A great letter... I agree that this should be sent to every newspaper in B.C. as well as made into an infomercial on t.v. Why wait for an election?

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  11. Myth #7: Teachers are the only workers affected by "net zero".

    Reality #7: Over 16,000 members of HSA (Health Sciences Association of BC) have been crippled by the "net zero" policy. Wages for HSA members in BC are upwards of 8$ an hour less than other provinces in Canada. The last contract forced upon HSA members was highlighted by a 0% wage increase, and a loss of 1 vacation day per year. So no, teachers, you are NOT the only group of workers being forced to pay for corporate tax cuts. Were you there to support other public sector employees last year when they were trying to fight "net zero"? I didn't think so.

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    1. Agreed! I am in HSA, and sorry, but I can't support these demands by the teachers. Frustrating to me to see the 'it's not fair' comments. Sounds like children. Life isn't fair, we are a country and province in serious financial difficulty. Cuts need to be made. I absolutely support putting money into increasing numbers of teachers, and adding support teachers and SEAs . If I want to make more money, I could move to Alberta and earn $8-10 more an hour too, giving me a significant raise but I choose to live here. It's always greener on the other side, and everyone thinks they are the ones hard done by. I work 37.5 hours a week, but actually in my office 40-42 hours and I don't get overtime pay. I choose to do it because I love my job and want to do the best I can for my patients. I take classes and go to workshops to enhance my job, on my own time and I pay for it myself. I use my vacation days to attend work related conferences. HSA's contract is also set to expire and we already had 0% wage last contract. I'm not expecting any better this time around. That's life, it's not always fair. I just appreciate that I have a job that I love that pays a decent wage ( which is slightly less than a teachers wage). Maybe there are just a whole lot of teachers with very little personal job satisfaction.

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    2. Job satisfaction! Try keeping 30 students at the edge of their seats for 5 hours a day, daily!! Attend meetings(special needs, counseling-requested meetings, parent-requested meetings, department meetings, staff meetings, Health and safety meetings,etc.) mark, prepare, field phone calls, supervise, prepare report cards, participate in extra-curricular activities,answer student concerns after classes; type/prepare/photocopy learning /testing materials for students (no secretarial time for us!); mentor, clean our boards, put up our chairs, manage the learning materials in our classrooms (put away the books, clean the lab equip. fix the musical instruments, organize the gym equip., ensure safety in the woodworking/auto and metal shops etc.), put up display boards, order books/educational materials,take first aide training at our own expense, etc.) No one-to-one with down time, bells dictate our time usage (coffee break? designated lunch time? not always possible); daily emotional 'baggage' children/students bring to the classroom must be dealt with in a calm and supportive manner; AND, Administrative Officers that add to the intensity of our day. (Some are very supportive; others add to our stress by being judgmental, giving little support by keeping communication lines blurred, not making themselves available, not taking control and leading but hiding behind their desks, etc.) We earn our keep!! And, we can't go up the capitalist ladder - 'more students doesn't mean more money; it means more work!' No compensation for using our own books, driving students with our own cars (we must 'up' protection on our personal car insurance to protect them in case of an accident) We only rely on the good nature of our govt. and the public to support us. Where are you? If you think you can do the job better, for cheaper, 'step up to the plate'.

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  12. Hello Anonymous, I have always consistently opposed net zero for ANY public sector worker, not just teachers. I absolutely agree that no group or groups of public sector workers should be singled out unfairly. I also believe we should all be rejecting the wage freeze.

    With respect to support, teachers in my local put up picket signs when HEU was facing wage cuts and I absolutely agree we need to be supporting each other.

    Please see my blog posts on this subject, including HSA in particular, from last year:

    http://staffroomconfidential.blogspot.com/2011/02/in-labour-newswill-hsa-vote-no-campaign.html

    http://staffroomconfidential.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-bc-government-wage-freeze-is.html

    This article was reposted on an HSA member site here: http://our-union.org/2011/03/29/why-the-bc-government-wage-freeze-is-indefensible/

    I also wrote about opposition to net zero from Vancouver Island University workers and Langara College workers:

    http://staffroomconfidential.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html

    http://staffroomconfidential.blogspot.com/2011/04/langara-versus-wage-freeze.html

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  13. Actually, the cost of the Olympics was closer to $7 billion, once you factor in the cost of the Canada Line, the Sea to Sky Highway, and the new Convention Centre. On a related note, the deficit in 2008, amortized over 3 years, stood at $3 billion.

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  14. I am a parent in SD#35 and I am so impressed with my children's school and with the hard work that most of the teachers and adminstrators put in at that school. They are still getting a quality education, even throughout job action.The teachers are commincating with my husband and I on their academic progress, and my daughter is on the Grade Six basketball team which practices after school and at noon hour 3 times a week! I support a wage increases for my children's teachers because I want them to be able to keep up with inflation and be paid what professionals make in other provinces. We need to pay our teachers and other public sector employees what they deserve, or els in the future, we will not attract good people into these professions or be able to keep them in our province. Isnt this what is happening in the nursing industry? The Lower mainland is one of the most expensive places to live and we have to face the fact that if we want an educated community, then we have to willing to pay for it.
    A concerned parent

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  15. I am a parent in south Delta and I must say that I am impressed with the communication that we have been receiving from my son's teachers at Delta Secondary. I think that teachers should get a raise at least to the level of inflation, but with all due respect to teachers, I cannot see where or how you feel that you should receive large increases. You are I think quite fairly paid for your job and you do not have the very real pressure for measurable performance that so many in the private sector face. Having said that, those people in the private sector are not getting the types of raises you are asking for and many of them would be happy with just getting at or near the inflation rate this year. I think that if you want to be paid very well then you will need to get into the private sector where you will face much more performance pressure, you will have 3-4 weeks off per year, there will be no such thing as overtime pay if you are salaried and if you don't perform adquately or well, you will faced with possible termination. You will have no effective job security unless you perform. So I think you have it quite good, better than anyone I can think of in most respects, with the exception of pay, which as I said I think is quite fair. I say this with great respect for your profession.

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  16. I am a very excited Teacher Candidate that will finish my Bachelors of Education this year. I am interested in this profession because I love it! However, my student loans are over 30 grand and I do not own a car, or a house. I am repeatedly being told that there are few jobs out there and the ones that are out there pay significantly less than a retail job I held before my Bachelor's degrees (per hour). I keep my optimism up because I know I am going to be fantastic at this job but it is hard to look past the fact that I will not be able to afford a house, a car and raise children on my income any time soon. Thank-you current teachers for fighting for those of us who want to join your ranks!

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  17. Great article Tara. And a great big THANK YOU for all of your hard work!

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