FACE TO FACE: Are B.C. public school teachers' contract demands too demanding?
It's September and that means thousands of students across the province are about to head back to school. Unfortunately, our children are heading back under a black cloud of labour distress.
In June, 90% of B.C.'s teachers voted in favour of strike action; starting next week, they will cease administrative work as part of a work-to-rule campaign.
According to published reports, the teachers want a substantial wage increase, 26 weeks paid leave to care for an ill friend or family member, two weeks paid leave upon the death of any friend, five paid days per year for professional activities and two sick days a month that can be saved up.
The BC Public School Employers' Association, the government's negotiating arm, has estimated the cost of these demands to be in excess of $2 billion.
Two billion dollars? What year is the BC Teachers' Federation living in? In the last negotiated deal in 2006, the BCTF was able to secure a 16% pay hike over five years for each of its teachers. But these are different times.
In 2011/'12, the province of British Columbia will record a deficit of $2.5 billion, compared to a $600-million surplus in 2006/'07.
Moreover, western economies are just barely rebounding from the biggest worldwide economic slowdown since the depression while fiscal crises in Europe and the United States have us teetering on a double-dip recession.
In a time when the private sector is saving its pennies and public service unions are facing layoffs and cuts, the BCTF acts as if it's immune to these economic realities.
And just where does my colleague opposite suggest the money to meet the BCTF's demands come from?
Should we raise corporate taxes and risk losing businesses - and consequently, jobs - to other jurisdictions? Should we borrow more money and go deeper into debt? Greece and the United States are great examples of what happens when governments spend beyond their means.
Certainly, we all agree that the teaching profession is, without debate, one of the most important professions in the world. Teachers bear the weight and responsibility of shaping the minds and values of our children.
But in these economic times, we just can't afford to give in to the BCTF's demands.
Because Face to Face columnist Terry O'Neill is planning to run for a seat on Coquitlam city council in this fall's civic election, his spot on this page is being filled by Andy Radia, a Coquitlam resident and political columnist who writes for Yahoo! Canada News and Vancouver View Magazine. He has been politically active in the Tri-Cities, having been involved with election campaigns at all three levels of government, including running for Coquitlam city council in 2005.