Class size, composition making for ‘rougher than expected’ teachers’ contract negotiations: advocate

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WATCH: Hard bargaining between teachers and NDP government – May 14, 2019

The BC NDP government may have a reputation for being union-friendly, but there are signs of trouble in paradise as the province hammers out a new contract with BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

The two parties are locked in tough negotiations, with teachers’ latest contract expiring on June 30.

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The union’s incoming president, Teri Mooring, has said she’ll focus on wage increases as a part of her mandate — but the latest sticking point appears to be one with a long and bitter history in B.C.: class size and composition.

That’s the issue at the heart of the union’s long battle with the former BC Liberal government.

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And it’s the issue on which the union won big when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the former government had illegally torn up contracts back in 2002, and restored decade-old contract language on class size and composition.

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Now, former Vancouver School Board chair and public education advocate Patti Bacchus says she’s hearing from multiple sources close to the bargaining that the issue is once again front and centre.

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“I think everyone knew it was still going to be a tough round of bargaining with the mandate government has put into place for public sector agreements, but I hear that it was rougher than expected,” she told CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show.

“What I’m hearing is there’s some real frustration that what is being tabled on the employers’ side would essentially kind of nullify what the teachers won in their epic court case in terms of stronger language around class size and composition in many of the restored agreements. And so there’s a lot of fear.”

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Bacchus said the language being used refers to “flexibility” around class sizes, and one idea being floated would be to have a standard ratio of specialist teaching positions imposed across the province.

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B.C. Finance Minister Carole James rejected the assertion that the province was asking for concessions from teachers.

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“No one around the table is looking at concessions. We’re looking at change, positive change for kids. Positive change for teachers, making sure we improve the system,” James said Tuesday.

“If you take a look at the investments we’ve made in education, I think it’s pretty clear — supporting the contract, putting those investments in place, improving class sizes — that we’ve made major investments in education, but I’ll leave bargaining to the bargaining table.”

James added that she doesn’t believe trouble at the bargaining table could result in strike action at some point down the road.

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Global News has requested comment from the BCTF.

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