Nearly 30 teachers and union representatives crowded the Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) board of education meeting last night to put pressure on the school board to pay them for a day of work which they say they are owed.
“We were promised an extra day’s pay,” said Terrace and District Teachers Union president Cathy Lambright, speaking after her presentation to the board, which ended with her handing off a petition signed by the majority of teachers to school board chair Art Erasmus. “Teachers wouldn’t have gone to work on that Friday if they knew they weren’t getting paid.”
That Friday is Friday, Sept. 19, which is before schools officially opened following the ending of the lengthy labour dispute between the province and teachers’ union.
When the two parties agreed schools would open Monday, Sept. 22, provisions in a return to work plan agreed to by both stated teachers would receive an extra day’s pay for working Sept. 19 to get classrooms ready for the first day of school.
But, differences in language in some local collective agreements, including the one here, mean that in about a dozen communities across B.C. many teachers have only been paid for seven days of work in September. The majority of districts have paid their teachers for eight.
In the CMSD, while part-time teachers have been paid for the extra day, full-time teachers have not, “resulting in inequitable payments to teachers,” added Lambright.
“We want to be treated like the majority of the teachers in this province and get paid the extra day,” said Lambright.
Her presentation noted that at one local school, teachers asked if they “really would get paid an extra day for September the 19.”
“The administrative officer assured the staff – after checking with the board office – that they would indeed get the extra day’s pay,” she continued. “In fact, this [administrative officer] wrote this message on the white board in the staff room. Teachers took them at their word, and worked the extra day.”
Lambright’s presentation also acknowledged that while the district followed the language in the local collective agreement appropriately, teachers were not paid “in accordance with the promise made in the return to work plan.”
“It’s more than just a contractual issue, it’s a moral obligation. It was a promise made by the government,” she added afterward.
School board chair Erasmus and school superintendent Katherine McIntosh said they were unable to specifically comment on the situation because the issue was the subject of a union grievance currently underway.
“We appreciated her coming to talk to the board because she made pretty clear what they are concerned about,” said Erasmus. “But how to proceed has to go through the grievance process, which has started.”
“Because the board respects the collective agreement and that grievance process, they’re honouring the requirement to be silent on the grievance in public,” added McIntosh.
Secretary treasurer Alanna Cameron added that the district has followed the local collective agreement – something which the union has also acknowledged. The union is effectively asking the district to not follow part of the collective agreement.
In the eyes of BC Public School Employers’ Association – the government’s bargaining arm – and the government, teachers have been paid for Sept. 19 in accordance with the various local agreements.
A document released by BCPSEA last month on the issue, noted that “the varied local language is being properly applied by school districts in this situation.
“The result of the variances in collective agreement language and practice is that teachers in one school district may be paid differently for working part of a month than teachers in another school district. Both approaches are correct based on the local collective agreement language and both result in teachers being paid for September 19, even though the approach to calculation for the September pay may be different,” reads the document.
In some school districts who have come up against this issue, like in Coquitlam, school boards made the decision to pay for the extra day out of pocket. If the CMSD board were to make a similar decision, costs to the district would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.