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July 7, 2012 / Carol Gibson

The Teachers Union in BC – who is victimizing whom?

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BCTF President Susan Lambert (Photo: Ward Perrin, PNG)

BC teachers deserve the ability to opt out of the BCTF

In summer of 2011 a colleague asked when I thought the “limited strike” would end. My response was pragmatic and pessimistic.  I indicated that I expected the “strike” to drag on through the year, with a break during summer of 2012 and full scale escalation beginning in September 2012 closer to the time of the provincial election. I further anticipated that the BCTF leadership would fail to bargain effectively as it has consistently done in the past, and that teachers would again be legislated back to work.

Why would I expect this? Primarily because the leadership of the BCTF has consistently failed to demonstrate that it can be an effective union or an effective union of professionals. The individuals who are most disadvantaged by this failure are the individual teachers who each school day interact with students in classrooms.

I am not an apologist for government and I am not anti-union. However, were I teacher and a member of the BCTF, I would be concerned about the leadership of the union, its political agendas and its willingness to cast its members in the role of “victim”.

BCTF rhetoric perpetuates a myth that government, regardless of political party, is intent on victimizing teachers, does not respect what they do or respect them as individuals. To demonstrate respect for teachers, government merely must accede to all union demands irrespective of cost to the taxpayers or necessary services in other sectors, such as health, that would have to be reduced or eliminated.

BCTF leadership also perpetuates a myth that what the BCTF seeks at the bargaining table is “for the students”. A brief glance at the initial proposals the BCTF brought to the table would suggest otherwise. Not one would have had a direct and positive effect on the learning environment for students in classrooms.

These have been consistent BCTF strategies through successive rounds of bargaining. If the leadership can convince BCTF members that government is deliberately victimizing them collectively and individually, then the union leadership has latitude to use any and all means to protect the members from “bullying by government”. While focused on being bullied by government only a few members will ask: what about BCTF bullying? What about a union that claims to be democratic, but seeks to supplant government to dominate and to control public education? What about a union that will exercise its influence to silence dissenting views or limit the careers of teachers who express dissenting views?

Perhaps the time has come to question whether there are alternate ways to organize. The current BCTF union structure as a post entry closed shop is dysfunctional and costly to the very society it claims to serve.

Currently, the only checks and balances in the relationship between government representing the electorate and the BCTF representing its members are legal. The BCTF has become adept at using legal means to stall, to challenge and to threaten individuals who speak out in opposition to the BCTF leadership.

The law is a blunt instrument in this relationship and legal decisions are routinely misinterpreted by the BCTF in public releases crafted to ensure that teachers continue to believe that they are being victimized. To be fair, the BCTF has occasionally used legal means to positive ends, but whether the gains have been worth the cost to the members is open to question.

Perhaps if the members had the option either not to join the union or to pay only for those services from which they benefit monetarily, such as the cost of negotiations, there would be greater incentives for the BCTF to bargain effectively rather than attempting to use the bargaining process as a means to influence political outcomes in provincial or local elections.

There are alternate examples in the USA and in the EU. Rather than closed shops, there are agency shops in which non-union members pay fees, but specifically for the cost of negotiating a contract. Or, there are open shops in which union membership is not required. These are more common in the EU and recognize the individual’s right not to belong to a union.

BC desperately needs at least a discussion about possible options. What currently exists does not serve the members or the public. It seems primarily to serve the leadership of the BCTF.

– post by Carol Gibson, originally published by City Caucus on April 30, 2012.

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