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September 27, 2007

Bad Blood at the BCTF

The BC Teachers' Federation isn't the only large union to fight occasionally with its staff; its recent four-day strike and four-week lockout seems to have left a lingering bitterness that might compromise its ability to function effectively. On September 24th Jeff Rudd reported in the Times Colonist that more than 50,000 copies of the September 2007 issue of Teacher Newsmagazine of the B.C. Teachers' Federation will be reprinted so as to remove an article that BCTF President Irene Lanzinger described as "very biased". It will cost the union $23,000 to reprint the Newsmagazine; it is not clear how much redistribution will cost or how many copies were mailed before the decision to stop distribution was made. The 380 word article appeared at the bottom of page 5:

"The BCTF was closed for five weeks from April 26, 2007, to June 4, 2007, due to a labour dispute with one of its staff unions."

"The BCTF bargaining team informed members of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, CEP 464, in November 2006, that the BCTF was intent on negotiating concessions and removing provisions from the CEP 464 collective agreement. It also provided letters stating that the BCTF would be unilaterally changing medical benefit coverage and the process for accumulating compensatory time."

"CEP 464 represent teachers and former teachers who are bargaining specialists, professional development specialists, pension specialists, salary indemnity specialists, WCB claims officers, health and safety specialists, field service specialists, communications specialists, as well as lawyers, and an accountant. The CEP 464 bargaining team informed the BCTF that it was willing to negotiate and trade items but was not willing to agree to straight concessions."

"In late April, the BCTF bargaining team stated that it would not trade anything and its mandate was to gain a straight concession from its staff. CEP 464 launched a full-scale strike on April 26, 2007, and the BCTF went to the Labour Relations Board seeking an anticipatory injunction to stop picketing at the rescheduled BCTF Annual General Meeting. Eventually, the BCTF withdrew its application at the LRB for an injunction. In response to the BCTF withdrawing its application, CEP 464 announced that it would lift its pickets and return to work, maintaining a work-to-rule campaign. The BCTF responded on May 1, 2007, by locking out its staff."

"An agreement-in-committee was reached in the early hours of June 1, 2007, when the BCTF agreed to a salary increase of 2%, to provide an early retirement incentive plan for CEP members retiring from service at the BCTF, and to provide a return to work bonus of $3,500. Future hires at the BCTF will receive a reduced retirement gratuity on retiring after 10 years of service and will not have the same medical benefit coverage as current members of CEP 464."

"The lockout lasted from May 1, 2007 to June 1, 2007. The BCTF building reopened on June 4, 2007."

"The five-week shutdown was the longest in the history of the BCTF. In 1998, there was a two-week strike by the support staff at the BCTF."

One has to wonder what is so offensive in those 380 words that members of the BCTF have to waste $23,000 in a futile attempt to retroactively censor the article. By recalling the magazine, the BCTF gave significant media attention to an article that some of its members may have missed, and that others would have read with interest as background to an unfortunate chapter in the union's history. Now the union has made the situation worse with CEP 464 (a grievance is in the works), and it has made itself look foolish and hypocritical. Perhaps Lanzinger and her colleagues should read some of the resources on censorship linked on the Teacher-Librarian section of its website. Alternatively, they might review the union's proud history of fighting censorship in schools.

Before a bad situation gets further out of hand, Lanzinger should apologize to Peter Owens, editor of the magazine and author of the article, and to the members of CEP 464 for not getting back to a productive collegial working relationship.


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