Friday, August 01, 2014

Government's $40-a-day payment to parents bad news for teachers' union

The government’s promise of $40-a-day payments to parents if schools are closed in September is an astute tactical move.
The plan, announced by Finance Minister Mike de Jong Wednesday, is a triple threat to the teachers’ union efforts to make gains in a new contract.
First, the payment - $400 a week for a family with two children in school and under 13 - will mute, at least a little, parent protests if schools are closed in the fall.
Second, the money government saves when schools are closed - about $60 million a week - will be taken off the table. The BC Teachers’ Federation won’t be able to argue it is available to help reach a settlement.
And third, the promise reinforces the government’s claim that it won’t legislate teachers back to work quickly, a point de Jong made again Wednesday.
That might be the most important part. 
The average teacher has lost about $3,500 in gross pay because of the stupid two-week strike in June. (Stupid because it hurt teachers and put no real pressure on government.)
That stung. But a long strike, even five or six weeks, could cost another $20,000, with a risk of no gains at the end.
Of course, the government could be bluffing, parents might be angered by a September strike and the Liberals could be forced to legislate teachers back to work. I still think that’s the most likely scenario.
But for many individual teachers, even the likelihood of a long strike would be dismaying.
Unlike many unions, the BCTF had only a tiny, immediately exhausted strike fund.  (That too raises questions about why a union that takes in at least $30 million a year in dues had no strike fund for a dispute everyone anticipated.)
The BCTF needs to increase public pressure on the government to make gains, but it hasn’t really succeeded. The public discussion is all about wage and benefits, not class size and composition issues. Teachers’ pickets to block school maintenance but irk administrators, but seem irrelevant - or destructive - to the public. 
The union can push for mediation for a few more weeks. It’s a reasonable position.
But its next move then should be to announce it was ending strike activities to give government time to consider a new bargaining approach and to wait for court appeals in the class size and composition decision.
Schools would open, unless the government was foolish enough to continue its partial lockout or go to a full one. And the union could work under the terms of the current contract regroup and plan a better approach to negotiations.