Time for teachers to question union

BCTF president Jim Iker continues the rhetoric from last year's strike, despite a devastating loss at appeal court

BCTF president Jim Iker

VICTORIA – After the first few glum lines of his speech, it was difficult to tell anything had changed for B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker as he took his familiar place before the TV cameras last week.

Iker droned on about how B.C. schools are under-funded by hundreds of millions of dollars, echoing demands from the disastrous strike he led the union membership into last year.

The B.C. Court of Appeal had just overturned a bizarre trial court decision that tried to give the union everything it wanted: a trip back in time to the NDP wonderland of 2001, a constitutional spanking for the B.C. Liberal government and a $2 million bonus of taxpayers’ money.

The BCTF must now pay back that $2 million and scrape up whatever is left of its members’ compulsory dues to plead for an appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada, continuing the executive’s self-righteous fantasy of controlling education spending in B.C.

The appeal court didn’t just overturn the judgment of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin. It shredded her legal reasoning and bluntly corrected her, over and over, on evidence she ignored or misinterpreted.

The appeal court confirmed at great length what I said when Griffin’s second decision came down in early 2014: it was far worse for B.C. schools than when judges decided in 2005 that teachers can bring union propaganda into classrooms.

Did the government bargain in bad faith? No. Did they conspire to provoke a strike? No. Did they illegally strip working conditions from the teacher contract? No. Turns out our kids are not just “working conditions” for teachers, and public policy still matters.

And it turns out that making special needs assistants dash between classes to deal with two kids here and three over there was a lousy idea. Now there’s even a credit course offered in high school for students with learning difficulties, which probably has some BCTF minion crafting a pile of grievances about segregation.

In the negotiated settlement reached last fall, teachers shared $105 million to make thousands of baseless grievances go away, after the union filed one for student numbers in every class in the province. This bloated perpetual protest machine drains the public purse in more ways than taxpayers realize.

Parents understand the strikes, though. They remember a union that scrapped report cards, disrupted administration and forced schools to shut down at graduation time.

The strike then dragged into the fall, as the government held the line on public service spending. And what was the key issue that kept schools closed? It wasn’t special needs support, where student performance has continued to improve. No, it was the BCTF demanding a raise twice as big as other public sector unions had already accepted.

In the end, their paltry strike fund long gone, the union grudgingly accepted the going rate. They figured they had the elected government on the run in court. Wrong again.

Next up for the ministry is taking control of professional development. A bill before the legislature will enforce standards, once the NDP is done denouncing it. Singing Solidarity Forever around a campfire and calling it paid professional development (a real example, by the way) will soon go the way of the union-controlled College of Teachers – onto the scrap heap of history.

There are BCTF members who understand how ill-served they are by their union. They are looking critically at the performance of their leaders, who are too often distracted by grandiose “social justice” campaigns as far away as the Middle East.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc