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Tight rein kept on local teacher talks

Chilliwack school district and Chilliwack Teachers’ Association had its first meeting on Wednesday to start local bargaining, but not much was discussed, said CTA president Katharin Midzain.

While the process is called local bargaining, it’s “muddy” as to what exactly can be talked about as this is the first time since 1994 negotiations have occurred at the local level. (The contract signed five years ago was done solely at the provincial level.)

Under the Public Employer Labour Relations Act (PELRA), negotiations dealing with salaries, benefits, prep time, paid leave, and hours of work are to be done at the provincial table.

“Essentially anything that involves money goes through the provincial body,” said Midzain. “But realistically, anything in the contract is going to involve money, even a local item.”

Despite the narrow guidelines for what can be discussed at the local level, Midzain hopes Chilliwack school district will be open to in-depth Chilliwack-centred discussions. However, she wasn’t holding her breath.

At the recent BC Teachers’ Federation annual general meeting, the consensus from teachers in other districts, who had already started negotiations, was that local discussions were essentially being shut down.

“There is a question right now about how broad the local table can be,” said Midzain. “And while local matters are already quite narrow, what BCPSEA [British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association] appears to be doing is wanting to narrow them even further.”

British Columbia has 60 school districts, some in urban centres, others in remote, rural areas. Each district has their own sets of issues, said Midzain. And because of that, “local bargaining should be local.”

The last contract signed five years ago was the only time since the BCTF was turned into a union by the Social Credit government in the 1980s that a contract was negotiated rather than imposed by legislation, usually after a strike in public schools.

A recent BCTF survey of teachers showed that class size and special needs support is the top issue for teachers.

The current contract expires on June 30.

~ with files from Tom Fletcher

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