The B.C. Teachers Federation is “the union that can’t take yes for an answer,” Education Minister Christy Clark charged this week.
Clark accused the union of holding students ransom in a dispute she said she thought was resolved.
And she was demanding the union executive hand over the money it said it would hold in trust for teachers during the ongoing fight for control of the B.C. College of Teachers.
“We reached out with this olive branch because we in government don’t think it is worth putting children at risk,” she said. “We believe that, we’ve acted on it. The union says it believes in it. It’s time for them to start acting on it.”
The teachers’ union says there are still a few issues to be addressed before it is willing or able to support returning professional fees that teachers have redirected from the College to a trust fund operated by the union.
“If we can get some commitment from [Clark] on those, then we’d be probably quite willing to recommend to our members when it comes to a vote that they vote yes,” said Carolyn Rowland, president of the Prince George District Teachers’ Association.
Clark announced a week and a half ago that the province would return to teachers a 12-person majority of the 20 seats on the College of Teachers, the profession’s governing body. The government had legislated teachers into a minority on the governing council.
Until the government changed its mind, a majority of the province’s teachers withheld their $90 college dues in protest. They said they would not pay professional fees into a professional body that did not have a majority of practising professionals governing it.
“Front line teachers told me they wanted a majority control of the college back, because it’s very important for them to be viewed as professionals,” said Clark. “I think teachers – think this issue has been resolved. I’m very concerned their union is putting their jobs at risk now.”
Technically, the teachers’ college can suspend any teacher who has not paid their fees by December 31. Realistically, it will take a few weeks before the fallout is known.
But Rowland said the union couldn’t return the money right away even if it wanted to.
“We are very democratic. We don’t just have our executive simply go and make decisions for the whole membership without consulting the whole membership.”
The teachers’ union will hold a vote at its next representative assembly, slated for January 23 and 24.
The union executive would be within its rights to recommend teachers support the return of their dues to the college, she said. But it still wants a couple of issues resolved.
Firstly, it is asking the province to ensure the appointed interim governing council of the college not be allowed to pass anymore bylaws.
And secondly, the union wants to see changes to the rules around teachers reporting professional misconduct by other teachers to mirror those required by other professional governing bodies, such as lawyers and doctors.
Clark has so far refused to consider the teachers’ latest request, saying “this isn’t a labour negotiation.”