Teachers fighting potential cuts to salaries

While School District 20 (SD20) management hands out Christmas gift baskets, teachers got the bitter taste of another delivery.

While School District 20 (SD20) management hands out Christmas gift baskets full of goodies, teachers got the bitter taste of another delivery before  the break.

The B.C. Public School Employers Association is making another attempt to cut teachers’ salaries by 15 per cent while job action continues.

CEO Hugh Finlayson says the B.C. Teachers’ Federation should pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits because teachers have refused to do administrative tasks such as prepare report cards during the four-month job action.

Andrew Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union, believes it’s time the local district took responsibility for bargaining for a new collective agreement.

He said the employer is looking for more management flexibility, specifically the ability to force transfer an employee at any time, lay off senior people to place more suitable applicants in their position, assign professional development to teachers and is looking for the ability to terminate anyone based on an annual evaluation.

“That’s the irony of the Christmas baskets,” said Davidoff. “Our local nice people ­– our employers – are walking around and giving us nice gifts. Nice gestures, but the same day they’re delivering chocolates, they want to claw back 15 per cent of our gross salaries retroactive to September.”

SD20 board chair Darrel Ganzert said the board has not taken a public position on this move and added that he wouldn’t know anyways as he excuses himself from the table during this specific discussion because his wife is a teacher and it becomes a conflict of interest.

“I think it’s a real slap in the face and that’s my personal opinion,” said Ganzert, who was previously in Davidoff’s role after working as a local teacher for 35 years.

“I think it’s ridiculous, quite honestly,” he said. “Teachers have been under attack for years and years and they put in huge amounts of time and effort to make sure that the kids’ needs are met when the government isn’t really meeting their needs.”

Former chair Gord Smith said the board has discussed the proposed 15 per cent in camera, a session that is not made public due to the ability to talk labour-related issues in private.

“I guess what (Davidoff) is trying to do is coax the board into bringing their camera sessions into the public,” he said. “I think that’s what I read here and those discussions will remain in camera.”

The two sides have been bargaining since last March and after 62 sessions, adjourned until the first week of January.

“I think the board is hopeful that the collective agreement that needs to be negotiated between the teachers’ union and the province goes forward in a way that is productive and right now there is very little to demonstrate that that is actually occurring,” said Smith.

On Tuesday, the British Columbia’s Labour Relations Board has concluded bargaining between teachers and their employers is so dysfunctional, changes are needed – but that could increase the impact on students and their families.

In a ruling released, three panel members for the board said so-called Phase One of the teachers’ strike action isn’t putting pressure on either side to come to an agreement.

The panel called it “fundamentally flawed.”

Instead, the board said both sides need to come up with a narrow definition of what teachers do that is essential, and what parts of their jobs students can live without, at least for some time.

Provincial legislation declares teachers to be an essential service and bars them from walking off their jobs en masse.

But the board said the teachers and employers in this dispute have taken an unconventional and overly broad view of what constitutes essential.

The ruling repeated the words of the board’s earlier finding, which concluded that the meaning of essential “may not be the same for every grade and may not be the same for any time of year.

Bargaining resumes Jan. 4.

With files from CP