Teachers won't say no to cash

Vancouver Province, June 4, 2006, Page A-10
By Michael Smyth

If there's one union in this province you can count on to choose confrontation over common sense at nearly every turn, the B.C. Teachers' Federation has got to take the prize.

The contract imposed on the teachers last fall, triggering their two-week-long illegal strike, expires at the end of this month.

And wouldn't you know it? Even though every other public-sector union in the province has signed a long-term agreement containing generous raises and bonuses, the teachers' union is talking about going on strike yet again!

They're nothing if not predictable. But today, I'm making a new prediction: This time, they'll come to their senses.

There's no way the BCTF will shut the school system down again. Not when there's a $3,700-per-teacher signing bonus on the table and an eight-per-cent wage hike the employer has hinted will be sweetened.

No union is so stubborn and militant to turn down a deal like that.

Um, right? I mean, they're not that loopy, are they?

Judge for yourself:

The BCTF is seeking a 24-per-cent wage increase over three years, plus massive improvements to their benefits and working conditions -- including increased preparation time.

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association -- which bargains with the union on behalf of the government -- estimates the total cost of the demands at $3 billion over three years.

That's a total compensation increase of just over 50 per cent.

The teachers' union says it deserves a huge pay and benefits hike because of the terrible shortage of teachers. Taxpayers have to cough up the big bucks to keep the teachers we have, you see.

What's that? You say you didn't know there was a shortage of teachers?

That's because there isn't one. The employer blew that argument out of the water with a simple statistical analysis. (Think about it: Steadily falling student enrollment doesn't create a teacher shortage. It creates just the opposite.)

The employer has rejected the union's demands (gee, what a shock), so now the teachers have drawn up a strike blueprint.

The "action plan," leaked to an anti-union Internet site, calls for a teacher "study session" on Sept. 5, followed by rotating strikes a week later and a full-scale walkout after that.

The union has scheduled a strike vote for this Wednesday and Thursday.

Have you noticed how the BCTF is leaking like a sieve these days? It's not often that a union's strike plans get plastered all over the Internet before the vote has even happened.

But it seems there's a lot of discontent in the ranks these days. When I wrote a recent series of columns exposing the exorbitant salaries and perks of BCTF administrators, I was swamped with calls and e-mails from teachers angry at their own union.

That's why I'm sure the two sides will sign and ratify a historic contract this month.

The bottom line: Money talks. That $3,700-per-teacher signing bonus goes bye-bye at the end of the month.

The union will take the money. But we'll have to endure a lot of empty threats and posturing before they do.

Copyright Vancouver Province, 2006

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