Prince Rupert teacher negotiations hit roadblocks

Local negotiations between the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union and School District 52 are being put off until the province-wide negotiations pick up again in August, but the two sides in Prince Rupert are hitting roadblocks of their own.

Local negotiations between the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union and School District 52 are being put off until the province-wide negotiations pick up again in August, but the two sides in Prince Rupert are hitting roadblocks of their own.

At issue in the Prince Rupert negotiations is a dispute over which level is allowed to negotiate on what issues. The teachers union put forward a list of issues that they say are apply mostly, if not almost exclusively to Prince Rupert, such as a negotiating a new deal for teachers who work over in the villages.

“We have teachers in Hartley Bay, so there’s a little bit of language about travel to the villages, isolation, and few other locales around the province still own teacherages. But that’s not something you’re going to see or need in a serious collective agreement,” says Joanna Larson, president of the local teachers union.

Another one of these issues is an employment equity agreement to help promote aboriginal involvement in education. Because issues like these mostly just affect the Prince Rupert area or small towns like it, they aren’t likely to be addressed in the province-wide negotiations down south, so the union wants to make a deal with School Board 52 instead. So far, the board has said that it will not be talking with the union about anything that has to do with spending more money.

“A number of issues have remained stagnant or outdated in the collective agreement because they haven’t been adjusted in over 20 years, and locally, they are just refusing to talk to us about them. They just say they’re provincial items and won’t talk to us about them,” says Larson.

The school board says that’s its not their fault that they won’t negotiate on what might otherwise appear to be very local concerns, the problem is that they are simply not allowed.

Several years ago, a deal was negotiated that split up what could be negotiated at the provincial level, and what can be negotiated at the local level. It’s these rules that prevent the school board from negotiating with the union about some of the items they want addressed.

“There is an overriding principle in that determination that anything that is a ‘money-matter’ is automatically a provincial matter,” says Cam McIntyre, the representative from the school boards negotiating team.

McIntyre says that if the union is worried that their concerns aren’t being represented at the provincial level, they should talk about it with the BC Teachers’ Federation. Larson says that the provincial negotiators are already trying to change how issues are split up between the two levels, but for the moment the rules do remain the same as they were.

For the time being, local negotiations are stopped to give the province-wide talks time to move forward and see if the rules on how issues are split up change at all. Those talks will resume in August.

“At this point, we’re waiting to see what happens provincially,” says McIntyre.