VANCOUVER - The head of the B.C. teachers' union says an agreement on how contract talks will be structured with the government's bargaining agent may cut through the toxic relationship that has hobbled previous negotiations.
Susan Lambert said Saturday that about 200 elected teachers from across the province voted unanimously to ratify the agreement, which was also accepted by the board of directors for the B.C. Public School Employers Association.
Contract talks will begin Feb. 4.
"To have this positive agreement prior to the start of bargaining is very heartening," Lambert said.
The teachers' current two-year contract expires in June and was reached after an entire school year of job action that had teachers refusing to fill out report cards and stage a three-day walkout.
The agreement voted on Saturday calls for a timeline to facilitate negotiations.
A facilitator will also be involved from the beginning of the process, Lambert said.
Both sides negotiated the proposed agreement in December, and the employer's spokeswoman, Debra Stewart, said the board of directors voted on it Saturday during their annual general meeting, which happened to be when teachers also met for their vote.
Stewart said she could not comment further on the agreement that outlines the negotiating process.
It stipulates that issues such as posting vacant teaching jobs, filling vacancies and transferring and laying off teachers will be discussed by local school districts, not at the provincial bargaining table.
Lambert said discussing such issues at the provincial bargaining table for more than 20 years hasn't worked for districts that vary so much in size and that grievances have piled up.
Last week, the government announced a proposed 10-year deal for teachers, saying it would index their wages to match increases for other public-sector employees and provide a $100-million education investment fund.
But Lambert called the timing of that announcement, just before both sides voted on the pre-talks agreement on Saturday, a "distraction."
"What is perplexing about this is that there are four government representatives on the board of the (employer) so they know what we're doing with the employer and yet there is this proposal that seems to me to be intentionally disruptive."
Premier Christy Clark said last week the aim of the proposed 10-year deal is to prevent labour issues from spilling into classrooms so students and parents can have the stability that's been lacking for decades while teachers have staged illegal walkouts.
Lambert said Saturday that the current contract talks, which could continue into the provincial election in May, would go smoothly if the government shows some "political will."
She said wages and benefits are among the top issues teachers will be bringing to the bargaining table.
Clark said last week that nurses, college faculty and other public-sector employees received an average wage hike of two per cent a year but teachers' salaries rose by 1.8 per cent annually during the same period.
She said the proposed deal will mean fair wage increases for teachers.
But that wasn't good enough for Lambert, who said B.C. teachers would continue to lag behind their counterparts in other provinces.
The teachers' two-year contract from last June included improved benefits and seniority provisions but no wage increases. The union demanded a 15-per-cent pay raise over three years.
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Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.