Teachers reach tentative contract agreement with 'gun to their head'

Teachers are "surprised" and "pleased" a tentative agreement with their employer has been reached, according to Comox District Teachers' Association president Steve Stanley.

But, he also warns, the deal is not done.

"Well, they were surprised, first of all, and pleased that they (B.C. Teachers' Federation and B.C. Public School Employers' Association bargaining teams) were able to reach an agreement," said Stanley. "The deal itself leaves lots of questions unanswered about salary, and prep time, and class size and composition issues.

"There's seems to be some mixed reviews around the province in talking to different people (teachers) so it'll be interesting to see if it even is ratified or not."

The tentative agreement between the BCTF and the BCPSEA was reached Tuesday evening after weeks of talks with government-appointed mediator Dr. Charles Jago.

Teachers started voting on ratification Wednesday with voting wrapping up today (Friday). The BCPSEA has set Wednesday July 4 as its ratification voting day.

If ratified, the net-zero contract would extend to July 1 next year, allowing for a more stable school-year for 2012/2013.

"Next year could look like a more peaceful, more calm, more stable kind of situation," said Stanley, adding he doesn't know whether individual teachers would go back to doing all of the extracurricular activities they have in the past or not. "But at least we won't feel like we have that kind of pressure of the bargaining table or the strike or other job action so that feels a lot better.

"This year has been a trying year for everyone, for parents, students, teachers as well, and a lot of extra work on the administrators so I think we'll be in a much better place next year and having any kind of stability's going to be a good thing."

Teachers have been without a contract for over a year, and during the school-year teachers took Phase One limited job action from September to March, held a three-day full-scale walkout, passed a provincewide action plan including withdrawal from extracurricular activities, and both sides brought actions before the Labour Relations Board.

BCPSEA chair Melanie Joy urged the province's boards of education and teachers to carefully consider the tentative agreement, and said she hopes both groups will decide it's a reasonable agreement at this time, according to a BCPSEA news release.

"For a variety of reasons it’s been a challenging round of bargaining, but we always believed that if the parties could get down to focused discussions at the table, a negotiated deal was possible," Joy said. "There’s no question that an agreement reached by the parties is always the best resolution, and that was always BCPSEA’s objective.

"We hope that boards and teachers will ratify this agreement and that we can all look forward to the new school year in September with a focus on what’s really important — delivering the best possible educational experience for our students."

Jago had until the end of this month to try to help the two parties reach an agreement, and Education Minister George Abbott had earlier stated if an agreement was not reached before the school-year starts, an imposed contract would likely be put into place.

Stanley noted the pressure was on to come up with an agreement.

"It feels a little bit like having a gun to your head — if you don't do this than you get that — so there was a lot of pressure on kind of both sides to do it," he said. "At least (the tentative agreement) means that the control over the deal was in the hands of the bargaining team — and not back to the legislation — because that was what it looked like was going to happen."

Meanwhile, teachers are continuing their resistance to Bill 22 — which imposed a cooling off period earlier in the spring and made any striking illegal. Wednesday, the BCTF filed a civil claim in the B.C. Supreme Court regarding the bill.

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