Monday, January 23, 2012

What is fair and reasonable?

Sadly, BC politics took a turn south this week, with Education Minister George Abbott fueling a backlash against teachers during bargaining.

It is frustrating to see so many misconceptions in some of the reporting. But then again, they aren't ignoring us, and that means something.

The usual myths began just shortly after the BCTF announced a new, reduced package at the bargaining table. The package represents a significant reduction from the original set of proposals. It included a wage increase of 3% cost of living in each of three years, plus a 3% "market adjustment" for the second two. This totals 15% over three years. The BCTF costing puts the total increase in year one at $305m, and an additional $130m in each of years two and three. The total increase over three years is $565m.

After one day of media coverage on the new package, the so-called pundits decided to weigh in. The Bill Good show. Jon Ferry at the Province. The Principals and Vice Principals Association.

Let's deconstruct of few of the non-facts out there.

Teachers are greedy. Well, since we took 0's in four of the last fifteen years (1998, 1999, 2004, 2005), I have a lot of trouble with this one. We have fallen from 3rd to 8th in cross Canada teacher comparisons. Other workers are getting increases (in both the public and private sector - see the Vancouver police, BC nurses and the recent agreement at Viking Air for some examples). The 15% over three years will perhaps only push us up to maybe 5th. The BC Liberals thought a "catch up" for MLAs at 29% in one year was just hunky dory. Who is greedy? 

The cost is too high. This one is a matter of perspective and doing fair comparisons. The day after we tabled our package, BCPSEA asked to cancel the following day's session. They also suggested that costing should be cumulative - that is, each increase for each year had to be added for each year. This is a bit non-sensical as you cannot compare different term contracts - it would mean a "costing" for a one year contract would always look considerably smaller than a "costing" for a three year contract or five year contract.

To have fair comparisons regardless of term, it is the total increase over the term that is relevant. It is notable the government never uses this method when they are the subject of the dollar amount. For example, they never describe the $330m per year removed from education budgets for class size limits over the ten years it has been in effect. That would be $3.3 billion. A big number indeed. More than enought to cover the costs of teachers' "demands". Fair and reasonable means you use the same costing criteria for everything. If they want to remedy their illegal removal of class size limits with $3.3 billion, teachers will be very happy.

My favourite came from Abbott himself during an interview on the Bill Good show. As reported by Janet Steffenhagen, in the Vancouve Sun: "he said government wants to change post-and-fill rules so seniority doesn’t trump everything. A social studies teacher shouldn’t get priority for a math posting simply because of seniority. he said. “It is so commonsensical I don’t understand the fervent objection to this as somehow contract stripping.”

What's the truth? Current contracts ensure teachers are qualified for the subject area they teach in. They won't even be considered without qualifications (regardless of seniority). Qualifications are based on objective criteria: formal education, previous teaching experience, additional informal training. What does Minister Abbott have on the table? The Principal decides. Yes, the government's definition of "qualified" includes "suitable" according to the Principal. So in fact it is the government proposal that could end up placing a social studies teacher in the math class. I try to be very careful with what I say, but it is fair to comment that the Minister is just plain wrong on this point - seniority doesn't trump everything. 


  1. Bravo! Excellent post. I totally agree with you.
    Why is your blog not showing up in the "Province" ?

  2. I don't think the Province would print my point of view! Thank you for the comment.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.