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Interview with Tammy McKinley, Chilliwack; Carla Wilson, Nelson; and Sarah York, Port Alberni

What made you want to be a part of the bargaining team?

Carla: My motivations were curiosity and the desire to make a difference for the membership. I have a lot of experience of how things work at the local level and wanted to have a deeper understanding of what went on at the provincial table. I also wanted to address some issues and roadblocks I see in education. Despite our 2016 court case win, teachers in many districts report increasing workloads and declining resources and classroom supports. The pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges resulting in an unacceptable level of teacher burnout. Collective bargaining provides a means to push the employer and government to do better.

Tammy: I have always had an interest in bargaining, as I bel-ieve that through bargaining we can create positive change for teachers today. Improvements made through bargaining continue to benefit teachers in the future. I have been involved in many roles of the local executive, and I have been a class-room teacher for 25 years. I brought that perspective to the BCTF Bargaining Team.

Sarah: The main factor that made me want to be a part of the team was my long-term curiosity about the bargaining process at the provincial level. So, when the posting came out, I decided to apply. I have experience collaborating with teams on large, complex projects in other sectors and in contract negotiation. I thought those skills might be useful. My advice to folks who want to be on the team, but aren’t sure they should apply, is to apply.

What surprised you the most about the bargaining process and sitting across the table from the employer?

Carla: In previous rounds, we all heard about the acrimony at the table and the employer’s attempt to strip our contract. As a result, I was prepared for more of a fight. So, I was surprised that, despite the employer being resolute on certain issues, in other areas they were open and collaborative.

The other thing that surprised me is what a large support system the team has. Much of the focus is on the team members and the discussions at the table, but there is so much that happens prior to that first meeting and between meetings with the employer. The BCTF has great staff that play a huge role behind the scenes.

Tammy: Sitting across from the employer, I was surprised to find out that their team is not released to do this work; instead, the bulk of the work falls on one person from the BC Public School Employers’ Association. I was also impressed with the know-ledge and information on costing and legal advice that the team was able to gain from BCTF staff. The staff that we have employed at the Federation are a great asset.

Sarah: I can’t decide if my answer here is everything or nothing. At the table, the thing that surprised me the most is that the employer’s representatives were just normal human beings doing a job. Just like us. No acrimony. In terms of the bargaining process, what surprised me was the wide variety of work involved in being on the team and how the work evolved over the trajectory of bargaining. As this project concludes, I am thankful for this opportunity to represent the membership. I’m amazed by what we were able to achieve, and I am grateful for the support provided by the staff of the BCTF.

What are you most excited about in this new collective agreement?

Carla: It’s hard to pick. We accomplished so much, and I am proud of the team’s work. We finally have a salary increase that gets us closer to equity with other provinces. We were able to shorten the salary grid, which will help new teachers. The addition of DEXCOM continuous glucose monitors to our extended health benefits package will be life-changing for some of our members and their families. We made progress on numerous fronts to address reconciliation. I was also very pleased that there was mutual interest in looking for ways to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. We were able to do all this in a relatively short time and without job action.

Tammy: There are many things that I am excited about in this collective agreement: articles to address reconciliation, Maternity Supplemental Employment Benefits (SEB), salary improvements, and professional development (PD) funding. The one I will expand on is the improvements to PD funding. We were able to get the employer to use the terms “establishing a provincial minimum.” Locals will be able to adopt this language when their funding falls below the minimum standard. The improvements for PD funding will allow teachers who had very low and stagnant funding the opportunity to attend workshops that will enable them to keep current with their professional learning.

Sarah: I am excited that there is so much to be excited about in this agreement. The provincial SEB plan at 100% is a big deal. My pregnancy/maternity EI benefit period was in a remote district with no paid waiting period or top-up. So, a provincial SEB plan at 100% feels like we have finally addressed a long-term inequity.

I am also excited that there was mutual interest and agreement about the updates and improvements to Letter of Understanding (LOU) 4, related to employment equity for Indigenous Peoples, and the new LOU for employment equity for groups that face disadvantage.

There is one more thing, because I like surprises: there will be additional improvements to the provincial extended health benefits plan in Years Two and Three. Details on this will come out sometime after April.

What now? When do we start seeing improvements? What’s next for you?

Carla: After ratification, both parties will work on melding the provincial language into local agreements. Some improvements will start immediately following ratification, such as the pregnancy/maternity SEB top-up provisions. Salary and the elimination of the bottom step of the grid will be retroactive to July 1, 2022; meaning that members will get back pay for any work they did between that date and the date of ratification, as well as a bump to their salary going forward.

As for myself, I am looking forward to some down time over the holidays with friends and family, and then I will return to my local to serve as president.

Tammy: Improvements to health benefits begin on January 1, 2023. Salary and benefits will see continued improvements in each year of this agreement. The PD improvements will be effective July 1, 2024.

Personally, I am getting ready to return to my Grade 3–4 classroom in Chilliwack. I have enjoyed the opportunity to represent teachers in this role, but I am looking forward to getting back to teaching.

Sarah: One provision that is a little different is experience recognition. After ratification, teachers will be able to have their experience working in First Nations schools recognized. For the purposes of placement on the salary grid, this pro-vision is retroactive to July 1, 2022. There is also a window of opportunity for having that past experience recognized, and that closes on June 30, 2023. If members have questions about a particular provision, they can check out bctf.ca for details or contact their local president.

There is plenty to appreciate in this agreement, but no deal has everything. So, I expect that there will be discussion about next steps soon. As for me, I will be gearing up to be back in my classroom and working on making up for lost time with family, friends, and the forest.

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Category/Topic: Teacher Magazine