We call upon the BCTF to stop using emotional and misleading arguments in the current dispute with the BC government.
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While we acknowledge that the government may also have some unfair language to answer for, we find that the BCTF and their supporters have more often engaged in unreasonable rhetoric. They seem to position themselves as a collection of infallible representatives of truth, integrity, and the rights of our children, while simultaneously portraying the government as uncaring misers set on destroying our education system. We find this contrast to be based largely on red herrings and emotional mischaracterizations of contentious matters.
The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of controversial issues in this dispute, but a collection of arguments by which we feel the BCTF and supporters are distracting us from the issues at stake in bargaining.
1: Binding Arbitration:
Binding Arbitration has its virtues, and may still have a place in the current dispute, but please stop insisting that the government's refusal to go this route at the present time is somehow immoral and unreasonable. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers (by way of the government who represents us), to put our collective chequebook in the hands of a third party, who could easily settle on a figure that is beyond what we feel we can afford.
Moreover, binding arbitration may settle on a middle figure between the two sides’ positions, which sounds reasonable in theory but in practice could have an unfair result. For instance, one side could purposely ask for the stars so that they could settle for the compromise of “just” the moon.
2: Provincial Comparisons:
The suggestion that BC teachers should get a raise because they make less than the national average is a red herring. Just because another group in another province has a better deal does not define ours as unfair. The provinces have different priorities in terms of how to spend their money (as determined by elections); as well, they may have a lower supply of teachers (which, we understand, BC has in abundance). The notion that all workers must make more than the national average creates a perpetual raise policy; that is, every time a province leapfrogs above the average, another province will be pushed below and will thus be expected to make their own leap.
Please keep in mind that we, the electoral majority of the citizens of BC, voted for this government. We believe the voters of BC were fully aware that this labour dispute was approaching. If the electorate had wanted teachers to receive a more significant raise, perhaps we would have voted for the NDP. Elections and voters matter.
3: The Importance of Teachers:
Please stop asserting that the importance of a job definitively justifies a high level of compensation. As much as we may wish it were otherwise, we are not living in an economic moral meritocracy. In our current economic structure, our society does not compensate based on virtue. Otherwise Red Cross workers would be millionaires and Justin Bieber would be a pauper.
4: The Poverty Argument:
We find the claim that teachers “don't go into teaching to make money” (implying that making a teachers’ salary is difficult financially) to be disrespectful to the women and men of this province who make less than teachers and don’t have access to their generous benefits packages. We don’t know the motivations of all teachers; many may indeed have chosen teaching to benefit society. That is admirable. However, the implication that teachers (who average $71,000 per year in salary, plus impeccable benefits) are in a low-paid field is difficult for many of us to fathom. (And, that doesn’t take into account that this salary is based on ten months’ work: over a full year, pro-rated, it would be $84,000.)
5: The Poverty Argument, Part 2:
Similarly, we find the claims from some teachers that they “have to take a second job during the summer to cover [their] bills" to be disingenuous. Teachers receive their summers off and, for the most part, are paid over a 10-month period rather than 12 months. In other words, they have access to their full salaries earlier than the average worker.
Thus, suggesting they don’t have employment and are not paid over the summer months is misleading. If anything, the two months are a rare benefit, in which teachers have many options, including vacation time (perhaps with their kids, who are conveniently off at the same time) or the choice to bump up their salaries by teaching summer school or taking other jobs. How many other occupations have this kind of flexibility?
6: Ignoring the Benefits:
We feel that, when making direct comparisons to the compensation of other workers, the benefits inherent to these public sector positions need to be factored in. Teachers have a high degree of job security, good health benefits, and generous defined pensions usually not available in the private sector.
7: “It’s not about money”:
We’re dismayed by the common assertion that teachers aren't striking for the money; instead, they claim, they're striking for the students. Maybe that's part of their motivation, but, a casual look at their contract proposals indicates quite clearly that they’re looking for a substantial boost in compensation as well.
8: “If you host the Olympics, you can afford to pay teachers more”:
The argument that, because we invested in big projects such as the Olympics, the construction of the new convention centre, the BC Place roof upgrade, and Christy Clark’s trips to Asia, we can afford to pay teachers more is fallacious. Our province has a right to different priorities than those of the teachers, and not all taxes are collected just to pay for public sector employees.
9: The Money Saved From the Strike:
BCTF advocates argue that savings from the strike should go back to the teachers. We find this strange. The argument seems to suggest that there should never be a consequence for workers when they go on strike, and that they should always be retroactively paid for the time off.
10. The $40 “Bribe”:
Some people have been "incensed" at the government for offering $40/day for children under 13 to help cover childcare costs. While we agree that there may be a politically motivated angle to this offer, we feel there is also a reasonable justification: assisting parents who may be struggling during this strike. Dismissing this offer as a "bribe" is elitist and not respectful of people in a more difficult financial position.
Moreover, when teachers say to parents, “school isn’t daycare” (in response to parents complaining about having to adapt to the strike), we feel the teachers are missing the point. School’s primary function may not be childcare, but since it nevertheless has the effect of performing that role during the school season, parents have appropriately adapted their work lives to fit. Thus, it can be daunting to suddenly have to find childcare when the teachers are on strike. That doesn’t mean that it’s only teachers who are to blame for the sudden change, but when they complain about the $40 going to parents instead of themselves for work they’re not doing, they seem out of touch.
11: The Signing Bonus:
During the summer, the teachers were offered a signing bonus to avoid a strike in the approaching school year. Some teachers called this a bribe. Now, while on strike in the school year, they demand a much larger signing bonus. We don't mind if the teachers eventually profit from the strike through their raise, but we think it’s important that there be a serious initial consequence to striking; otherwise, what's the disincentive? Signing ought to avoid long-term strikes, not to reward them.
12: The Arguments of Children:
Please stop appealing to the alleged opinions of children to push your cause. A child holding a poster calling on the government to open up the schools is a vacant argument; children are not well informed on the issues, and will likely take whatever side their parents (or teachers) tell them is correct. Such use of earnest six year-olds oversimplifies while attempting to tug at our heartstrings. Again, it is a standard marketing (i.e. manipulation) ploy, one which has no place in this important debate. Let’s keep the discussion of this issue between adults, shall we?
13: Assuming That the Government Doesn’t Care:
The suggestion that the government doesn't care about kids is an unfair accusation without evidence. The government is accountable to all parents in the province, but also to all people wanting to access health care, the roads, and the criminal justice system. Sometimes, the government has to make tough choices; this doesn’t necessarily mean they are indifferent to the needs of students.
14: The Government’s Right to Appeal a Court Decision; The NDP’s Right to Share in the Blame:
While at this point it looks like the government broke the law when they quashed the last NDP-BCTF contract, they - as with any other person or party - have the right to appeal that ruling. Please stop suggesting that the government is automatically playing the role of dictator when they defend themselves (i.e. the taxpayers) in court. Moreover, even though we disagree with the government if they broke the law, we feel the NDP should share some responsibility for setting the teachers up with that “sweetheart” deal. They left the Liberals to choose between accepting an untenable (ie: “sweetheart”) deal or breaking it.
15: Class Size and Conflict of Interest:
While we agree the teachers are in a valuable position to understand the challenges with class size and composition, we argue that they are acting in a serious conflict of interest due to the fact that they stand to gain personally from smaller classes and more teachers/aides. As such, we propose independent third parties be responsible for defining optimum class sizes and composition. The teachers’ oft-claimed dearth of resources to deal with their special-needs-heavy classes is hard to authenticate based solely on their own, potentially self-serving pleas.
We are not arguing that the government is without fault in this dispute. However, we feel they have done a better job of keeping the debate focussed on facts as opposed to rhetoric. We call upon the BCTF, Mr. Jim Iker, and the many people in support of the teachers’ position to focus on the facts of bargaining rather than the fallacies of emotion and misleading characterizations.
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