Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey join Bill Good for Cutting Edge of the Leg

Bill Good Show, CKNW, May 19, 2006, 9:05 am Transcript
Excerpt with Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey

Good: Now, the government did well, as you mentioned, on labour issues. But the teachers are still to be determined.

Baldrey: Oh yes.

Palmer: Ah yes, our old friends. The teachers…. This is a strange one. They’re very upset that the government offered them only 8 percent over four years. Well, it’s an old practice in labour relations. When the other side comes in way too high you come in low, because you’ve got to meet in the middle. The teachers asked for 26 percent over three years, compounded. I know it’s being reported as only 24. It’s 26 over three years, compounded.

Baldrey: Plus….

Palmer: Plus the benefits and other working condition changes cost out at 24 percent over three years. It’s 50 percent over three years increase in pay, compensation and working conditions. Confronted with that, of course the government came in at 8 percent over four years. If you’re going to go too high, the other side’s going to go too low.

Good: What do you think of this threat — it was in the news this morning — that thousands of teachers are going to flee to Alberta?

Baldrey: Oh, that’s just like what the nurses said a few years ago.

Palmer: British Columbians….

Baldrey: Not going to happen.

Palmer: …are not going to move to Alberta, you know, because as Jim Taylor once said from the sports beat, sure the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup, but when you leave the building you’re still in Edmonton. Most British Columbians I don’t think will move to Alberta.

Baldrey: Yeah, and it does remind me of….

Good: And a lot of young teachers would love to see that happen.

Baldrey: Well, it’s a hollow threat by the BCTF. You’re not going to see teachers en masse move to Lloydminster or somewhere or Medicine Hat.

Palmer: Some will.

Baldrey: Some will, but not enough, I think, to have an impact on the talks.

It’s interesting. They’re taking the strike vote June 7. That’s fine. That is part of the normal labour relations practice. You take a strike vote to put heat on the employer to get a little more serious in the offer. So I wouldn’t read too much into that quite yet. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a strike in the fall.

But anecdotally I hear more and more from teachers on a daily basis — e-mails, getting stopped in the street — from teachers who say: I want that signing bonus. That’s, I think, a pressure now on the BCTF bargaining committee that wasn’t there in previous rounds of bargaining which never resulted in a successful contract anyways. That’s a pressure now that they have to respond to because if they let this go past June 30, continue to ask for 24 percent or 50 percent in terms of total compensation, which is totally unrealistic, I think a lot of teachers are going to be extremely upset with the BCTF leadership for robbing them of that $3,500 bonus.

Good: There’s quite a different climate right now. I mean, you point out the economy is doing well. But from a labour relations point of view, four years ago, even supporters of the government I think thought it was a bit lean and mean when it came to dealing with the public sector. Since then we’ve seen HEU settle. We’ve seen the nurses vote 97 percent in favour of a settlement. They’re now even running ads talking about how they’re going to make the system better. There’s quite a different climate here, and the teachers are all of a sudden out there kind of own their own.

Palmer: Yeah, and we look back at what happened last fall. The public sided with the teachers. But remember, the government’s offer last fall was nothing. You know, they offered them nothing. Of course the public was sympathizing with that. But I don’t think anybody sees 8 percent over four years as the final offer. The teachers will get more than that, but they’re not going to get….

Good: Something like 12 or 14 percent probably.

Palmer: They’re not going to get 50 percent.

The teachers union, I gather, was a little surprised that when all these benefits and other things they were asking for were costed out. Well, you know, that’s what the Ministry of Finance does with every public sector union. Everything you ask for they work out the cost that it’ll be to the provincial Treasury, and then they say, okay, well, that’s the equivalent of this much in pay.

Good: There’s another issue here. I mean people will argue about teachers’ salaries and their length of work year, but when it comes to benefits, don’t teachers have at least as good if not better benefits than the vast majority of people in B.C.?

Baldrey: Well, they do, and they want more. They want a 100-percent funded dental plan, including 100 percent costs for orthodontics….

Good: I don’t know anybody who has that.

Baldrey: Nobody has that.

They want, I think, 100-percent coverage of prescription drugs, $600 twice a year for vision problems. You know, the benefits add up.

I agree with Vaughn. My impression from the BCTF…. I did a story outlining the cost of all these things, and the next day the response from the BCTF was: well, where did that come from? We don’t have that information. I don’t think the BCTF has actually sat down and put a cost to all the things they’re asking for, other than just straight wages. These things cost money to the employer, which is the taxpayer, and if you want a 100-percent covered dental plan, that can cost a lot of money to the employer. The BCTF did not factor that in, presumably, in their bargaining presentation to the government, but the employer certainly did.

[Break]

Good: Chris, hi.

Good: Blair, in Delta.

Blair: Hearing the demands of the B.C. Teachers Federation I’m a little bit surprised at how excessive, perhaps, some of their recommendations or demands are. I can understand that there’s a certain element of posturing there, that you can always [inaudible] in negotiations, but considering what the nurses were able to get, it seems particularly unattainable. Are you confident these discrepancies will be resolved? Or do you anticipate there being a disruptive strike in September?

Palmer: I think the nurses…. I appreciate, Blair, your bringing up the nurses one, because I think that’s the one you have to look at. The nurses got….

Good: Didn’t they get 17 percent over four…?

Palmer: Seventeen percent over four….

Baldrey: With the nurses shortage.

Palmer: And there’s a significant shortage of nurses. The Health minister pointed out in the Legislature last week there’s 1,100 vacancies for nursing positions in the two Lower Mainland health regions.

The government keeps, now, fairly detailed statistics on nurse shortages. The numbers it has on teacher shortages simply don’t bear out that there’s a major shortage of teachers. The numbers that are relevant and they haven’t been debated or disputed yet…. B.C. produces about 2,000 teachers a year through university, and another 500 teachers move here and get certified from other provinces, so 2,500. Retirements and people who leave the province and leave the profession, it’s about 1,500. So from that number it looks like we have a surplus.

There are shortages in some areas. There’s a shortage of teachers on call in Surrey, shortages of teachers in some of the northern and rural communities and a shortage of math, physics and science teachers. The government has offered to pay premium pay for recruitment for those positions.

Good: Oh, come, come. We can’t pay more.

Palmer: Well, we do that for nurses.

Good: I know. You know I’m being facetious, but that’s the reaction.

Palmer: I know you are, Bill.

I mean the thing is this is now well established in the public service. We pay extra to get nurses to work in the operating room…

Good: And doctors.

Palmer: …on weekends. You have to. Where there’s a market for people out there, you have to.

Baldrey: But this is a big breakdown at the table. My understanding is this is a fundamental breakdown. The BCTF says there’s a provincewide teacher shortage. The employer flatly denies that and says: okay, prove it. The BCTF has yet to provide any….

Palmer: Anecdotal evidence.

Baldrey: They’ve got anecdotal evidence. There was, for example, a letter in the Vancouver Sun this week from a Prince Rupert, I think, principal or teacher saying there was a shortage up there. That may very well be the case. I mean northern towns do have challenges on human resources that are not faced by Lower Mainland communities. But provincewide the BCTF has not proven that. I’ve asked for that data. They have yet to give it. That’s a big breakdown at that table, and I don’t see that being resolved because the BCTC says: put up or shut up.

Good: Another issue was raised yesterday by a teacher who called this program. This is not one I’d heard about, and maybe we’ll get some more calls.

This was a teacher who called to say that retired teachers are putting themselves up as teachers on call, and they’re being called back at the expense of the younger, less experienced and cheaper teachers who would normally get the on-call jobs. When they get called back, on top of their pension they’re getting top dollars as teachers on call.

Palmer: So they’re allowed to double-dip then.

Good: That’s what it sounded like.

Baldrey: I hadn’t heard that, but that would be certainly an alarming situation if you’re a young teacher trying to get into the profession.

Good: Maybe some of those teachers on call that are going short in Surrey are going short in Surrey because they’ve opted to go to places like Prince Rupert or Prince George to get full-time teacher positions that they’ve waited three or four years for, because that has been the case.

Baldrey: And it does vary from region to region, just like every other profession.

Good: Ken, in Campbell River.

Ken: When Jinny Sims was on your show yesterday she said something I thought was quite profound really, talking about the benefits package. She said that there hadn’t been any significant adjustments to the benefits package for ten years, which tells me that it has to be a gold-plated Rolls Royce package that they’ve got. I’ve always suspected that. I just think that the notion of teachers leaving the province for Alberta with the kind of packages that they’ve got is just absurd.

Baldrey: One aspect of the teachers’ package…. This always astounds people when I tell them that. How many professions do you know where you’re allowed to bank your sick days and collect them from year to year? Teachers can do that. They can bank their sick days. I think there’s 15 a year, like a lot of other contracts. But you don’t lose them at the end of the calendar.

Good: You know, I’m not picking on teachers on this. There are other public sector areas where that’s the case, and I’ve always thought it was incredible. To me, a sick day is insurance against being sick.

Baldrey: Yeah.

Good: It’s not a benefit to put in the bank. It’s there to protect you if you get sick and can’t go to work. But if you happen to be healthy….

Baldrey: I just find that astounding that you can do that. I’d love to be able to bank my sick days. I’m hardly ever sick, and I know you guys are hardly ever sick. We’d probably have a year off every few years.

Good: Ray, in Langley.

Ray: I’m one of the teachers that’s left the profession in the last little while. I’m just quickly calling to confirm what you guys were talking about around senior teachers who have retired who can come back.

Good: Is that a fact?

Ray: That is absolutely a fact. In the district I worked in that was a fact. Not only that, what typically happens is that if they work more than three consecutive days in a row they then get paid on scale for their time, which means they get paid at their scale of salary when they left the profession.

Good: But on top of the pension they’re collecting.

Ray: That’s correct.

Palmer: And they also have…. I forget the math on this, Bill, but there is written into the contract early retirement plan for teachers after a certain number of years of service — you can retire, whatever your age is. I don’t know whether that’s in your…like when you’re 60 or when you’re 55. But it’s a good retirement package.

Now, governments negotiated this and in most cases imposed these contracts. I’m not saying they were given all this. They’re entitled to what they have. These are the arrangements they have. But whether they have a good case for improving it… I haven’t heard them make it yet.

Good: Ryan, in Cobble Hill.

Ryan: I just want to talk about Jinny Sims. My impression of what’s going on now is that in the last go-round, during the illegal strike, she was actually kind of looking for the opportunity to be the martyr that everybody talks about her as, and this go-round is kind of an opportunity for her to stand up to this government again. Do you think she’s just sort of missing the boat on this? Like, she’s…the demands they’re asking for and [inaudible]. What’s your thoughts on that, gentlemen?

Good: Let me put it to them when we come back.

[Break]

Bill Good: Bill, in Victoria.

Bill: I just wanted to confirm about three things that were talked about. Sick leave is banked, 15 days a year. If they don’t use it, it carries on to the next. That’s common with pretty well all the public sector, municipal workers, school districts. The one different, though, is teachers, unlike many of the others, don’t get a payout if they don’t use it. That’s always been a demand on the table.

Good: But why should they if they don’t use it, if you’re not sick?

Bill: The teachers who retire — many of them are called back to work. One of the reasons for it is there’s shortages in some areas, particularly for subs in areas like math and science and shops, and that kind of thing. So you’ve got this experienced person there who’s going to provide an excellent lesson. Why not use them: is the attitude, of course, of the school districts, particularly in those math, science, and shop areas.

Keith Baldrey: Well, my understanding is…. He mentioned those particular areas of teaching. And that is the concern. Shop, I know…. The stereotypical shop teacher is a crusty, older fellow. And you don’t see a lot of young teachers coming in to teach shop; so I’m not surprised that you would see retired teachers being asked back to fill that position. Same with math — I think there is a shortage of math teachers.

I guess it’s not a profession-wide situation where retirees are being asked back, but it probably the case. It certainly makes sense that in certain areas where there is a particular expertise lacking, that you do call in some experienced people, whether they’re retired or not.

Vaughn Palmer: One other piece of information useful to keep in mind on this is that these talks are proceeding under the watchful eye of Vince Ready. His associate Irene Holden has been sitting in as a facilitator. If they don’t get an agreement by June 1, she is supposed to report out on the areas of agreement and disagreement. That still leaves a month for the parties or the government to ask Ready or Holden to go in and recommend a settlement.

So it’s not as if these talks are proceeding just out there and no one’s keeping an eye on them. It’s a good thing that Ready and Holden...— by mid-June we may have a strong recommendation from them on what the settlement should be.

Baldrey: You’ve got the government’s representative Lee Doney also keeping a close eye. He’s a veteran participant in labour relations and well-respected. I think he’s going to have some influence on this, as well.

Good: Mark, in Burnaby.

Mark: I know why I don’t listen to you too often, Bill, because when I do, it just seems like I’m catching on a subject that really gets my anger up: the teachers.

Oh, I was at my dentist’s the other day paying off the rest of my $3,000 bill for some crown work, and we got on the subject of insurance. According to him, the teachers have a hundred per cent insurance for detail work. That crown work can run into a lot, a lot of money.

As a taxpayer I’m paying 60 per cent of my property tax, for teachers. I mean: enough is enough. Between the teachers and TransLink, I should just pack up and go to Alberta.

The people of this province — you’ve got to write to your MLA. Get in there, and say something, because what do the teachers make?

With all their benefits, I don’t even know what they make a year. Maybe your gentlemen can tell me what does a…?

Good: Well, let me ask you what you think they make.

Mark: Oh, I would say: around $50,000.

Good: I think that would be a relatively young teacher. I think they start somewhere between 36 and 40, and work their way up. If they have an average teaching certificate in education, they get up to around — what — 60?

Baldrey: Up to $70,000 if you have a master’s degree — which is on the high end of society if you earn that. On the other hand, there’s a lot of professions that pay a lot more than $70,000.

I think a lot of people would agree that teachers provide an extremely valuable service.

So when we talk about all this, I keep getting this tack from people: it’s one thing to talk about the teaching profession — which I don’t think we’re really discussing here — but it’s another thing to talk about the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s bargaining situation. I think you can be critical of one without being critical of the other.

I don’t think the three of us — we’ve talked about this a lot — have ever been critical of teachers as a teaching profession. They provide a very valuable service, and I would make the argument that they’re underpaid. I think they should be paid more. I think a lot of people in the public expect them to be paid more.

Whether or not that extends to an even-more generous benefits package is another question.

Good: But I think when you do look at those salaries and you look at a $70,000 salary, you do have to at least take into consideration it comes with good benefits, good pension, and generally speaking — and I know a lot of teachers work more than the nine months that they’re in the classroom — they do have considerably more time off than most other people who are in that kind of price range.

Palmer: Yeah, and I think you have to remember as well the job security in the public sector. Your employer is not going to go out of business. Your pension plan is not going to fail. You’re not going to suddenly get laid off because commodity prices collapsed. When you put that together with the generally much better benefit packages in the public sector, these are good jobs.

Good: There is a caveat, though. There isn’t much job security for those younger teachers trying to enter the profession, although if Jinny Sims is correct, that we’re facing shortages now, that’s a situation that is changing. But for the last several years there’ve been a lot of young teachers who every spring get a pink slip and wonder whether or not they’re going to get hired back in the fall.

Baldrey: Well, it’s a fact that enrolment is plummeting around the province. There’s just not as many kids in the public school system because of the demographic change. I mean, the boomer generation’s over; you’ve got the eco-boomers now. There’s just not as many kids going into the schools; so it’s tougher for younger people to make that a profession.

Good: Now, in response to the caller who visited his dentist, a teacher has called to say that teachers get 50 per cent coverage for crowns and 80 per cent for general dental work.

Baldrey: That’s right. And they’re trying to get 100 per cent, according to the employer.

Good: Yes. Okay.

Dean: I’m phoning to talk about my teacher or my wife — sorry. She’s graduated the teaching program from SFU last August, and she’s been trying to find work for the last year.

Good: It shouldn’t be a problem. There’s a shortage of teachers.

Dean: Apparently. But I believe it’s a FUDD campaign by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

She’s got her application in Vancouver, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, Langley, and Surrey. My wife hasn’t even received a call from Surrey. Langley says they’re not hiring for TOCs. Coquitlam has not even bothered to phone her.

So when I hear about these…

Good: It insults your intelligence.

Dean: It insults her $15,000 degree, and it insults these…. All these teachers who are looking for work…

Good: Dean, I have to give you the last word. My thanks to Vaughn and to Keith.