EDITORIAL: Bargain, but quietly

With school now underway, both sides in the B.C. public school teachers dispute should loudly pronounce their intentions to bargain in good faith and then duck under the cover of silence until there's something worthwhile to report — like a settlement.

Teachers’ contract bargaining should not be a spectator sport with blood-thirsty zealots cheering on their combatants like teens at an after-school fist fight. There are more adult ways to conduct negotiations than fear mongering, rabble rousing and putdowns.

With school now underway, both sides in the B.C. public school teachers dispute should loudly pronounce their intentions to bargain in good faith and then duck under the cover of silence until there’s something worthwhile to report — like a settlement.

The BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Public School Employers’ Association have an opportunity to create a teachable moment for thousands of B.C. students by engaging in respectful negotiations.

No doubt there are extreme challenges facing both sides in this dispute because the teachers are expected to live within the same “zero net” deal accepted by other public sector unions.

With an arbitrator ruling that issues traditionally discussed at the provincial table should remain there, and class size and composition regulations left out of the discussion for now (the province has until next April to contemplate the implications of a Supreme Court ruling that struck down class size and composition regulations), both sides in the dispute have a very narrow range of concerns to deal with.

As frustrating as it is for teachers to not be able to deal with their most pressing issues — parity with other provinces on wages and benefits, class size and composition — and with a provincial election still a long way off, the road is clear for some hard bargaining on the narrow range of contract items still open for discussion.

One option is for both sides to bear down on a few key non-monetary items to obtain a short-term deal or stall for a year or more until the way is clear for a possible return to bargaining of class size and composition, wages and benefits.

Regardless, it should be understood by all that teachers have the legal right to bargain (as upheld by the courts) and complaints of unreasonable concessions or unrealistic demands are typical opening bargaining positions.

With these volleys out of the way, it’s time for some serious bargaining.

But, please, let’s do it quietly.

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