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Preparing for bargaining 2024

BCTF members (L to R) Jessa Clark, Britt Hailstone, Sarah Wethered, and Kelsi Lesowski while at the BCTF's Fall 2023 Representative Assembly in Victoria. Rich Overgaard photos.

By Britt Hailstone (she/her), Vice-President and Bargaining Chair, Chilliwack Teachers' Association and Sarah Wethered, Second Vice-President and teacher-librarian, New Westminster Teachers' Union

As members of a union, our working lives are largely laid out by our collective agreements. Bargaining is the process through which we negotiate changes to our collective agreements and make improvements to our working lives. Everything from salary and benefits to school year start and end dates can be brought to the table during the bargaining process.

The split of issues outlines which matters can be bargained locally and which are bargained provincially. In both cases, member input is integral to the process.

In Chilliwack, we have already begun school visits to connect with members and get input on bargaining priorities, while also sharing information about the bargaining process.

...surveys give us a better idea of what is most important to members right now. This helps inform local bargaining and set priorities for the bargaining team.

Both Chilliwack and New Westminster, like many other locals around the province, will be sending out surveys to the membership throughout early 2024. The surveys give us a better idea of what is most important to members right now. This helps inform local bargaining and set priorities for the bargaining team.

The surveys are also an important source of data for provincial bargaining. For each round of provincial bargaining, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) hosts a bargaining conference where members set key priorities and objectives for that specific round of bargaining. Locals, and the BCTF Executive Committee, will make recommendations to the bargaining conference for bargaining objectives. These recommendations are informed by the membership and often draw from the survey results where members share what is most important to them. Local general meetings are where final decisions are made for any bargaining objectives that get put forward to the bargaining conference; attending your local general meeting in the new year is important for this reason.

Making your voice heard when locals are gathering information to inform bargaining is a great first step to get involved in the bargaining process. For those who are looking for a bit more involvement, there are a number of different ways to volunteer within your union to be directly involved in the bargaining process, such as joining your local’s bargaining team.

The bargaining team is a group of members that represent the membership at the negotiating table with the employer. Throughout our careers, both of us have experienced bargaining teams consisting mostly, and in some cases entirely, of men. Gender balance and diverse representation are important if the bargaining team is to be representative of the membership. It can feel like an intimidating process to put your name forward for bargaining, and there can certainly be some feelings of impostor syndrome, but both of us have found the environment to be supportive and welcoming. Every step throughout the process is collaborative and democratic.

Gender balance and diverse representation are important if the bargaining team is to be representative of the membership.

There are several different roles involved in bargaining, and some are more accessible for members who feel they don’t have enough experience to represent their colleagues at the bargaining table. For example, observers and note-takers are two roles that allow members to experience bargaining first-hand without the pressure of being a negotiator.

Bargaining is collective action that directly affects our day-to-day work, which is why getting involved in bargaining and staying informed throughout the process is important. In recent rounds of bargaining, we’ve made some monumental gains that benefit members. For example, in New Westminster we were able to add language to the collective agreement for job-sharing and solidify language to help prevent split shifts. With only one overcrowded high school in our local, we are looking to potentially have longer school days in the future to accommodate our growing school population. This language proactively works toward ensuring members will have continuous work shifts if the high school day extends beyond four blocks.

In Chilliwack, through bargaining, we’ve secured strong bookends to our school year: we always start on the Tuesday after Labour Day and finish on the last Friday of June. This sometimes means we have a short and compressed school year, but ensures members have consistent start and end times each school year. We also created an option for an intra-district exchange, where members can opt to swap positions with a teacher from a different school for one year to try working in a different community before committing to it long-term. Other significant gains include clarifying staff meeting language, the creation of a District Advisory Committee on Health and Safety, and making our collective agreement gender neutral by removing gendered pronouns and replacing terms like “maternity leave” with “pregnancy/parental leave.”

We’re looking forward to working with colleagues to further improve our collective agreements in the next round of bargaining. Keep an eye out for surveys from your local and connect with your local office to learn more about how you can get involved.

Glossary of bargaining terms

Arbitration: A method of settling a labour-management dispute by having an impartial third party conduct a hearing and render a decision that is binding on both the union and the employer.


Bargaining survey: A questionnaire sent out by the local to all members of the bargaining unit to assist in the drafting of bargaining proposals. It is not an unbiased scientific survey, but rather aims to inform and gather information from members.


Bargaining unit: A group of employees agreed to by the union and the employer as constituting an appropriate unit for the purposes of collective bargaining and is certified by the BC Labour Relations Board.


Caucus: An informal meeting of the bargaining team, away from the bargaining table, to discuss, clarify, or solidify positions on issues.


Collective agreement: An agreement in writing between the union and the employer setting out the terms and conditions of employment, including rates of pay and hours of work.


Collective bargaining: A process where the union and employer make offers and counter-offers back and forth regarding their employment relationship for the purpose of making a mutually acceptable agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of employment.


Grievance: An alleged violation, misinterpretation, or misapplication of a provision of the collective agreement. The grievance follows a process outlined in the collective agreement.


Grievance procedure: A formal process, specified in the collective agreement, that provides for step-by-step meetings that allow for discussions at a progressively higher level of authority of the employer, usually culminating in arbitration if necessary.


Letter of Understanding (LOU): An agreement regarding the interpretation or application of existing provisions in the collective agreement. It does not generally alter the provisions of the collective agreement.


Mediation: A process in which a neutral third-party assists parties in a bargaining dispute to come to a voluntary agreement. The mediator may suggest to the parties various proposals and methods for resolution of disputes, but they have no formal power to force a settlement.


Melding: The act of blending existing collective agreement provisions with newly agreed to, or restored, provisions.


Memorandum of Understanding/Agreement (MOU or MOA): A written agreement between the employer and the union setting forth agreed terms and conditions. Generally used as a supplement to the collective agreement to resolve a dispute or to conclude negotiations.


Ratification: The voting process for or against the new collective agreement. The voting process by bargaining unit members constitutes the ratification of the collective agreement, which is required for the new agreement to take effect.


Split of issues: As mandated by the Public Education Labour Relations Act of 1994. It deter-mined which bargaining matters can be negotiated locally and which must be negotiated provincially.


Tentative agreement: The point in the collective bargaining process where all issues have been resolved between the parties and agreement is waiting to be ratified by the parties. This term can also refer to individual bargaining proposals that have been mutually agreed to by the parties.


Term: The negotiated length of the collective agreement that may include a bridging provision that maintains the terms of the agreement until a new collective agreement has been negotiated.


Bargaining timeline

January 30–February 1, 2024

In-person bargaining training for BCTF members

March 4, 2024

Deadline for locals to submit their priorities and resolutions to the bargaining conference

April 2024

Executive Committee makes recommendations to the bargaining conference; bargaining collaboration day for locals

May 22–23, 2024

Bargaining conference determines provincial bargaining priorities

September 2024

Additional bargaining training offered online from the BCTF

November 4, 2024

Local bargaining tables open

February 28, 2025

Local bargaining concludes

March 1, 2025

The last day provincial bargaining tables can open unless there is an extension by mutual agreement.


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