Education Minister Rob Fleming (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. NDP set to restructure union bargaining

School trustees to regain control over employer group

The B.C. NDP government is moving to unwind changes made by the B.C. Liberal government to union bargaining, starting with restoring a majority of elected school trustees to the board of the agency responsible for bargaining with public school unions.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association was restructured in 2013, with Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Hospital Employers’ Association, appointed public administrator for school bargaining in addition to health care talks.

The BCPSEA board is meeting this week to change its bylaws, restoring the ability of school trustees to elect seven members to the association’s board. The province would retain authority to appoint up to four directors.

It is “important and beneficial” for school trustees to have a direct role in governing the BCPSEA, according to a statement Monday from Education Minister Rob Fleming’s office.

“It is the accredited bargaining agent for all 60 school districts,” the statement says. “It is the only central agency with a statutory mandate to act and speak with one voice on behalf of all public boards of education as employers.”

When then-education minister Peter Fassbender appointed Marchbank in 2013, he said it was temporary, in response to a demand by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to bargain directly with the provincial government. The Canadian Union of Public Employees had also walked away from talks with BCPSEA, saying the trustee-run agency didn’t have an adequate mandate to get a settlement for school district support staff.

RELATED: No ‘showdown’ with teachers, Fassbender says

Finance Minister Carole James announced in September she was consulting on changes to four bargaining agencies, including the BCPSEA. The others are the Health Employers Association of B.C., the Community Social Services Employers Association and the Post-Secondary Employers Association.

The restructuring is to “ensure the bylaws allow for effective advisory structures so that boards have a good line of sight to the operational realities and technical issues faced by public sector employers,” the ministry statement says.

“The bylaws need to provide the board of directors with the flexibility to recruit and select an individual to serve as chair from outside the sector (i.e. someone independent of any particular member employer).”

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