The chances of reaching a new teachers’ contract this month range from slim to none.
There can always be breakthroughs when both parties sit down and bargain seriously, especially with the help of a mediator.
But that usually requires some preconditions.
The number of outstanding issues needs to be reduced, and the distance between employer and union positions narrowed. The negotiators need to have prepared their principals - politicians and union members, in this case - for inevitable compromises.
And both sides need to feel under pressure to reach an agreement.
None of those are in place. There are still too many issues on the table for effective final bargaining - benefit improvements, prep time, salary grid changes, class size and composition.
And the parties are too far apart. On pay, for example, the union wants a $5,000 signing bonus and raises that would increase pay by 8.2 per cent by 2017. The employer proposes $1,200 and raises that would see pay rise 4.6 per cent by the same date. The union’s proposed signing bonus would cost $150 million; the government’s proposal would cost $36 million. The union wage proposal would cost the government about $75 million more a year by 2017 than the government proposal.
The government hasn’t come up with any legitimate response to court decisions that demand bargaining on class size and composition based on the clauses eliminated when it ripped up contracts.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has raised members’ expectations, making it hard to sell any eventual compromise deal. If negotiators go public with a long list of proposals after a strike has been launched, those become the benchmarks for union members.
And the union’s ill-timed strike is costing a typical member $350 a day in gross pay (without increasing pressure on the government). Some have characterized the $5,000 signing bonus as necessary replacement for the money they lost by striking. Their position is increasingly entrenched.
All those factors make a settlement unlikely.
So does the apparent belief of at least some participants on both sides that this process is a battle of right and wrong. Negotiations are about reaching a deal based on what is possible, not a holy crusade.
More talks in the next two weeks are unlikely to result in a settlement. But they might resolve at least a few items, or bring a little more clarity about what a final deal would look like.
But at this point, the union and government need to begin considering how they will deal with the impact of a strike in September.
Ultimately, parents won’t stand for schools to be closed. If a deal can’t be reached at the negotiating table, one will be imposed.
Public opinion is critical in that process. If the government believes the public sides with the teachers, the imposed settlement will reflect that. If government thinks they have support, the deal will give less to teachers.
It’s a lousy way to reach agreement on pay and working conditions for some 33,000 employees. But until the process is improved, it’s what we’ve got.