Opinion

Opinion: Teachers waiting for big payday under the NDP

The BC Teachers' Federation has tentatively agreed to a ceasefire with the province that will last through the next school year, but not through the next election.

The collective bargaining agreement, to be signed retroactively to July 1, 2011, would expire in June 30, 2013, conveniently one month after the BC NDP would presumably be swept into power if the election results are anything like the polls reflect today.

BCTF president Susan Lambert made it clear in media interviews that the only reason she signed the deal was to avoid further legislation by the BC Liberal government, and said the Liberals were waging a war against her union.

Lambert further suggested the union would now play the waiting game until this government is kicked out of office for "dealing in bad faith."

Is it dealing in good faith with the taxpayers of B.C. to sign an agreement it knows is nothing more than a truce that will merely erupt again a year from now when it comes collecting from the NDP? The union will presumably want substantial increases for hinting its 41,000 members should vote for the party.

The sad fact about the education system is that it's evident it can't afford the luxuries being demanded by teachers. Not only is there nowhere left to cut, there's no money for the nearly $2 billion in raises the BCTF will be demanding next June.

Let's look at the facts. The B.C. government is running an estimated $1-billion deficit this year even as the union was calling for a 15 per cent wage increase over next three years. They also wanted paid prep time, improved benefits, more time off, and six discretionary leave days to care to care for sick friends and relatives. This, from a profession that automatically receives six weeks vacation during prime summer months.

Currently, B.C. teachers make between $48,000 and $74,000 a year, and up to $83,000 for those with higher level qualifications.

According to a Statistics Canada report released June 18, the average after-tax income in 2010 for a two-parent, two-income Canadian family with children was $88,900. Two teachers would combine for an income of between $96,000 and $148,000. The average income for a single non-elderly Canadian earner in 2010 was between $29,300 and $35,200.

But teachers aren't only generously compensated in wages, they also have some of the most enviable benefits and pensions in the country, indexed for cost-of-living adjustments.

Lambert also said the BCTF would be suing the government for its previous back-to-work legislation, even as it reaches across the table to sign the contract.

Now who's dealing in bad faith?

The worst part of all this is that these negotiations have nothing to do, whatsoever, with improvements to the quality of education. Our children still struggle with outdated materials, decrepit and decaying infrastructure, and extra-curricular programs stripped to the bone. Some schools can't even afford playgrounds anymore.

B.C. teachers are out of touch with the rest of British Columbians, most of whom have seen no increases to their wages through the four-year recession, if they were even able to keep their jobs. The public sector unions need to wake up to the new world of resource scarcity, job insecurity, and belt-tightening.

Teachers have long enjoyed a high quality of living and for many decades we've been able to afford it. But as the baby boomers retire in the "grey tsunami," that gravy train is about to come to a screeching halt.

— Adrian MacNair is a reporter with the Mission Record.

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