Friday, April 15, 2011

Teachers court win a big challenge for Clark

The teachers' union big win in court this week has created big headaches for Christy Clark.
Practically, the ruling that the Liberals acted illegally in stripping class size and composition limits from teachers' contracts in 2002 could end up adding to the education.
It will certainly make contract talks with the B.C. Teachers Federation, already underway, much more difficult.
Politically, the ruling raises questions about Clark's judgment. She was education minister at the time and a key architect and defender of the discredited legislation.
And it reminds people that, while Clark has been working to distance herself from the Campbell years, she was a cabinet minister and deputy premier for the Liberals' first three years in government, when some of the most controversial decisions were made.
The issue isn't complex. The teachers' union had successfully bargained to have class size and composition limits in contracts. (Composition refers to the number of special needs students in a class.)
In 2001, the newly elected Liberals thought the limits were too restrictive, costly and properly a matter of education policy.
So they passed laws in 2002 to strip them from the contract and bar the union from negotiating the issues in future.
The Liberals had a point. Class sizes are matter of education policy, which should be the responsibility of school trustees and MLAs.
But a sensible government would recognize they are also an issue of working conditions. Unions negotiate working conditions. There needs to be some balancing of interests.
Clark didn't see it that way. The government used legislation to strip the contracts. (In spite of Gordon Campbell's pre-election promise to honour all signed agreements.)
It did the same thing with health workers, leading to the firing of some thousands of employees to be replaced with people working for much lower wages.)
The health unions won their lawsuit in 2007. That cost taxpayers $85 million in settlement costs.
Now the teachers' union has won a similar victory. The court found there was no justification for stripping the contract and removing teachers' right to bargain working conditions - especially when they had agreed to other concessions in negotiations in return for the class size and composition limits.
The court didn't rule teachers had an absolute right to negotiate class size limits.
But it found the government hadn't made any real case that the issues couldn't have been addressed through bargaining and had made no effort to find other, less draconian solutions.
Before Clark and company stripped the contracts, there months of consultation with the B.C. School Employers' Association, which bargained for school districts.
But none, literally, with the B.C. Teachers Federation on ways of dealing with the underlying issues.
OK, the BCTF was a difficult union. (And still is - the union is seeking outlandish wage increases in the current round of negotiations.)
But the government's failure to make any effort before using legislation to strip contracts was thuggish and incompetent.
And costly. If the government had made any sort of real effort to seek solutions to real problems, the outcome of the court case might have been different.
The law on bargaining rights was unclear at the time. The health unions' 2007 Supreme Court of Canada victory changed that.
But practically and ethically, seeking a solution without attacking the bargaining rights of teachers - and creating years of costly conflict - would have been much smarter.
Instead, the government blundered ahead. In court, it couldn't provide any evidence class size limits were a real problem. It couldn't offer any evidence that a negotiated resolution wasn't available. And it conceded it didn't even try to solve the problem without a harsh law.
Those were costly mistakes. The court gave the government 12 months to address the rights' violation, but the teachers' union is not going to sign a new agreement that doesn't reflect the judgment.
Clark faces an early test. And not an easy one.
Footnote: It's also surprising that the government didn't try to negotiate a settlement with the teachers once the health unions won in 2007.
The clear legal victory gives the BCTF considerable bargaining clout in the current talks, which the union will certainly use.


Anonymous said...

Clark and Campbell, and too many other past and present Campbellites, viciously attacked unions for no other reason than ideology and vengence. (Is it because of envy in the case of Clark vs BC Teachers? Teachers must all have academic degrees - Clark was unable to graduate university, try as she might). Children and families were nothing more than pawns, and disregarded totally in her illegal attacks, while now Ms. Clark campaigns on her love for "Family Values". Many British Columbian children - the products of Christy Clark's ill-conceived vendetta against her betters, will be "moving forward" (ughh that favorite BC Liberal catch phrase) struggling with an educational handicap for which Clark should be standing up and claiming the credit (but will she be honest enough to admit it?). If I were a judge and a Class Action lawsuit was brought against her personally by these same students and their families, then I don't see how I would not be able to find her willfully and negligently responsible for untold damages.

DPL said...

Perky Christy was given the job as Education Minister by her boss Gordo and came out swinging against those awful unionized teachers. Did she happen to talk to them.? No way only to their employer and things went downhill fast. Good for the teachers to stand and fight their case in court. And WIN. It will be interesting to see what those courts cases the Campbell crew lost, will cost us.Removing the right to strike was really dumb but ideology got in the way of collective bargaining. Ms.Clark, you will be wearing your stupid adoring support of Gordo, no matter how dumb his visions were

Anonymous said...

The Liberals under Campbell, Christy Clark and Shirley Bond represent a group of thugs who are not well educated and feel they need to persecute teachers and teacher's own children who attend public school. The Liberals went after my children while they were in public school. They removed them from a class situation that was normal and deliberately put them into a disabled class full of learning and behaviour disabled children because I, as their parent, was a teacher and had previously made an anti liberal comment at a parent meeting. They thought they would "teach me a lesson" When I requested to have my children put back into their regular class...I was refused.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:04.

That was downright revenge. To go that far as to, deliberately harm your childrens lives. That is disgraceful beyond words. I maintain to this day. Campbell and Christy Clark need a mental evaluation, the pair of them are, full of hate, spite, malice, and horribly vindictive. Normal people, do not behave as they do.

We have to contend with the Liberal, media propaganda machine. However, we message all our friends and relatives, and ask them to pass the message on.