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Friday, October 14, 2005

The three real issues that are driving the teachers strike

When teachers walked off the job the day before the Thanksgiving Day long weekend many parents including myself assumed that we see a one or two day strike and then teachers would return to work. Here are the three main reasons why that has not happened:

1. Demographics: Like in nearly every other job category, teachers are predominantly made up of aging baby boomers who are now approaching retirement. So let’s say you are 60 years old and have taught for 30 years and now decide to retire. Your pension income is set at 70% of the average of your top five years of income.

This is where we get down to the crux of the issue. At the end of the provincial government’s three-year 0,0 and 0 contract, a teacher in BC with 30 years experience would be making $53,000 per year while a teacher in oil rich Alberta would be making $71,000 per year. That wage gap is the difference between retiring on about $3000 per month versus $4,000 per month pension income.

2. Working Conditions: Back in 1990 during the last days of the Socred Administration teachers took job action around working conditions. Limits on class sizes were put in place and special needs students, i.e. those with severe physical or mental disabilities were limited to no more than two per classroom.

Although it is debatable whether or not having a class of 30 students is that much worse than having a class of 20, what is clear is that increasing the percentage of special needs kids, without increasing the number of teaching assistants is leading to mayhem in the classrooms.

So why aren’t the teachers making this a front and center issue this time around? Because teachers figure that as classroom situations continue to deteriorate that sooner or later parents will start squawking and that if enough of us do that then Victoria will start providing more funding for teaching assistants.

3. Politics: Over the last twenty years the leadership of the BCTF has become ever more closely aligned with that of the BC NDP. The BCTF openly campaigned on behalf of the NDP during the last provincial election and a former BCTF President, David Chudnovsky, even got himself elected as an NDP MLA.

This political alignment has been incredibly damaging to the BCTF in that it has created a thoroughly antagonistic relationship with the provincial government and has led to a situation where any of teachers’ concerns, legitimate or otherwise, are dismissed as political posturing by the BCTF on behalf of the NDP. The lesson to be learned here for teachers is that they are better off having a union that has the ability to negotiate with the provincial government regardless of which political party is in power.

(This column was originally published October 14, 2005: 24 hrs)

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