Vernon teachers respond to breakdown in discussions

Mediator says union and government are too far apart to reach deal

Local teachers insist classes can still begin this week even though discussions have broken down.

Mediator Vince Ready walked away from the table Saturday night, saying the B.C. Teachers Federation and the provincial government are too far apart to reach a deal.

“We have not given up. As things stand now, the strike will continue. A deal is possible before Sept. 2 but we need help to make that happen,” said Heather Malcolm, Vernon Teachers Association president, who is encouraging parents to contact their MLA.

Ready met with both sides for two days to see if there was common ground.

“The BCTF tried to kick-start meaningful talks by dropping some proposals entirely and reducing others substantially,” said Malcolm.

“In total, teachers reduced their package by $125 million. Unfortunately, the government did not indicate they were willing to make any meaningful moves in return.At issue is an employer proposal that would replace any and all language around class size and composition that teachers might win back through the courts.”

The courts have ruled twice against the government over class size and composition policies and the issue is currently before the courts again.

“Teachers are not going to bargain away everything the B.C. Supreme Court has already awarded us. And, once again, the B.C. Liberals refuse to commit the necessary funding that students need for learning conditions,” said Malcolm.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender defends the actions of his negotiators.

“Everything we’ve tried to do was to have schools open on time and to  reach a settlement. Unfortunately, the BCTF leadership has stubbornly refused every effort to reach a fair deal and they have even refused to give teachers a chance to vote on suspending the pickets while an agreement is mediated,” he said.

“Negotiating a settlement requires union leaders to stand in front of  their members and explain what has been achieved at the bargaining table. I worry the BCTF leadership is actually counting on government to legislate an end to this strike so they can avoid having a difficult conversation with their members about what is realistic and achievable.”

Fassbender says legislating an end to the dispute is not the solution.

“As hard as it is, we have to stand firm and hope the union leadership comes around to getting serious about negotiating a fair agreement,” he said.

“The gap is much bigger than what the BCTF has been making it out to be,  which was that the parties were close on all matters except class size and composition. Over the past few days, it’s been a very different story behind closed doors. The union made no substantive effort to get anywhere near the zone on wages and benefits. Their moves were so small that their compensation demands remain nearly double what 150,000 other B.C. public-sector workers have settled for. They even insist on a special $5,000 signing bonus that no one else received.”







Vernon Morning Star

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