Saturday, March 17, 2012

Teachers debate a response to Bill 22

Tomorrow, at the BCTF Annual General Meeting, BC teachers will debate and vote on a way forward to challenge Bill 22 - the BC government legislation that imposes a constrained, pre-determined contract outcome, as well as stripping class size and class composition provisions from BC schools.

If you are a BC teacher, please consider the following discussion points:

There are times in history when taking action is critical. Many teachers wish that we had acted more decisively in 2002 to stop Bill 28 and the initial removal of class size/composition from our contracts. This is similarly a time for strong and decisive action. Only a strong response will be able to stop Bill 22 and the attacks on job security rights, fair evaluation processes and professional autonomy. Teachers should be prepared to do what it takes to defeat this Bill.

The first reaction of many teachers to Bill 22 was the fear of fines. The Bill was written to have this effect. But what teachers and all other workers should actually be afraid of is the tremendous loss of rights that will be forced through the phony mediation. We should be afraid of losing job security rights, putting each and every one of us at potential risk of job loss without reasonable cause. We should be afraid of losing due process in evaluation, which could mean dismissal from one evaluation without any due process requirements. In the US, evaluations have been used to fire teachers because their salaries became too near the top end, because they were pregnant, or because they spoke out about classroom conditions. Due process protects everyone from cronyism, favouratism, and unfair practices. We should be afraid of the loss of our professional autonomy, which could signal the beginning of the end for professionalism in teaching. The potential negative outcomes on our careers if Bill 22 goes ahead are far, far scarier than any loss of income or fines in the short term.

Bill 22 takes a page right from the “education reform” movement in the US. That movement aims to eliminate job security, seniority, and professional autonomy. Already in the US, teachers are subject to firing because their school "got a failing grade", because some student test scores were low, or because they spoke up as a professional to contest budget cuts or poor educational decisions. Many evaluation schemes are unfair and unreliable - often with error rates of up to 35% (that is, one in three "scores" is simply wrong). It took only ten years for US “education reform” to bring teacher morale to an all time low and to force many veteran teachers out of the professional. The largest cohort of teachers in the US is now the group with one year of teaching experience.

Teachers in the US are pushing back, but the biggest regret was not confronting these policies right away. Once they are introduced and legitimized, it only gets harder, not easier, to fix them. We have the opportunity to stop the first infringement on our job security rights, our due process rights, and our professional autonomy rights. We should not let this slip by.

• In 2005, BC Teachers voted to defy legislation and two Supreme Court injunctions during a two-week walkout that resulted in improvements in teaching and learning conditions through Bill 33.
• Many strikes taken by BC teachers and by Canadian workers have been illegal. Our history provides clear evidence that we win only when we are willing to take action regardless of the laws thrown at us.
Bill 22 and the laws we face are unreasonable, unjust, unconstitutional, and contrary to international law.
• Vaughn Palmer writing in the Vancouver Sun, describes Bill 22 as excessively harsh and unreasonable citing section after the section of the bill including passages that “would ‘void’ existing provisions of collective agreements, including obligations to negotiate and/or refer matters to arbitration. Should those powers prove insufficient, government is given additional leeway to settle matters via ministerial fiat.”
• UBC Law Prof, Joel Bakan, writing in the Vancouver Sun alerts readers that “The B.C. Liberal government is poised, once again, to violate the legal rights of workers, this time with Bill 22…” Governments are obliged to govern according to law. That is what distinguishes democracies from tyrannies. As a fundamental democratic principle, the rule of law is seriously jeopardized when governments play fast and loose with constitutional and international laws, as this government is now doing with Bill 22.”
• The ILO (International Labour Organization, under the UN) ruled against the provincial government in 2003 stating that while education is important, it is not an essential service under international treaties Canada signed in 1948. The ILO called on the provincial government to honour the fundamental principles of free collective bargaining and freedom of association, repeal the essential service legislation, refrain from imposing conditions of employment, and open discussions with the union. The Liberal government has ignored these rulings.
Restricting ourselves only to ‘legal’ activities is both (1) an expression of our acceptance of unjust laws, and (2) a certain defeat for us and our profession.

Labour support is one of the key reasons teachers should act. The BC Liberals have for ten years implemented policies that take from the average citizen and give to their corporate friends. Cuts to corporate tax rates combined with wage freezes on the public sector are just one way that this government has taken from the 99% to give to the 1%. If teachers have the courage to stand up to this government, other public sector workers will be ready to join us.

A true and genuine quality public education system is one in which public schools are every bit as good as private ones. That means small classes, adequate teacher time, and teachers who are well paid. It means a teaching profession where the best and brightest choose to enter and stay in the profession. It means budgets that keep up with inflation and that provide for every student's needs. For a decade, this government has bled public education dry. Now it wants to make permanent the increased class sizes and the lack of support for students with special needs. As is our long tradition, teachers should continue to speak up and stand up for a public system every bit as good as the private one, to give every child a fair chance at a full and meaningful, quality education. BC's children deserve no less.

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