Category Archives: Member Voices

This is a spot for members to add their voices on their union experiences or other matters of importance to them. Opinions may not represent ETEA as a whole.

You Need a Union

by Chris – Local 1

Professionals need a strong professional voice. Being a professional ESL teacher is a respectable career choice. Teachers need a secure platform to voice professional needs and negotiate fair benefit packages in an atmosphere free from unfair demands and restrictions. If our workloads increase we should expect more pay. If there is steady work we should not be relegated to eternal serial short-term contracts that can be unilaterally amended by an employer at the drop of a hat. Don’t get me started on the issue of favoritism, which is the death knell of any serious professional endeavor.

Organized teachers contribute to the establishment of industry career standards. There is no better or quicker way to establish a professional profile.

Employers win with unionized teachers because teacher turnover is dramatically reduced in organized schools. A professional teaching staff creates a positive reputation for the school. Popular schools are always the ones with happy teachers that stay around long enough to generate positive word-of-mouth. Unionized teachers are the most content.

The focus of organizing is to strengthen our voice in establishing fair working conditions in a vibrant, lucrative industry.

More recently it has become absolutely imperative for teachers to present a unified professional voice to combat the negative media spin associated with references to our profession. ESL teacher bashing has become popular sport.

What is our image? What is the BC Education Brand we keep hearing about in the news?

Are these two things mutually exclusive? Of course not. More than ever we need to be strong. Our identity should celebrate the depth of our profession. Its history has deep roots in BC, embedded in immigrant and refugee services. It is connected to overseas ESL industries in Japan and elsewhere. Some of the well-established language schools in Vancouver were started by people with teaching experience, foreign and domestic. However, the smell of money has attracted Big Business. How have our working conditions changed over the years, our pay, benefits, and job security? What are your expectations for the future? We as teachers have been plugging away, devoted to our students, yet treated as a commodity, an operating cost, kept in the dark, out of the loop, on the edge. Why? Money. That’s why. Our teaching is a labour cost, the single most expensive variable in the budget of operating costs. Teacher empowerment is a costly endowment. Keeping teachers marginalized through low pay and negative media image is profitable. In the meantime, professional demands on teachers have increased.

This profession has to pull its head out of the sand like every other profession has had to do. The school owners have their own self-serving forms of union, don’t they? Their self-regulating and voluntary associations started with PELSA, which disbanded to join CLC (previously known as CLSP). Then CAPLS joined CLC to re-merge in 2008 under the latest name, Languages Canada. That’s an impressive metamorphosis. However, in terms of teacher needs I can’t seem to see the butterfly.

Teachers are the breath of this industry. We are going to get a VOICE. We have our needs, too. The industry has grown up. We are professionals. Shouldn’t we get paid as such? We will have a voice in the direction of this industry, a fair share of the growing prosperity. Aren’t you tired of the same old song and dance you hear about there being no money, the school’s in the red, maybe next year will be better?

ESL teachers are survivors. But it is time to wake up, combine our small, misunderstood voices, turn up the volume, and be heard! It is time to organize. Form unions. It’s easier than you think. Join the 300 other ESL teachers who have already done so. Have a look at our collective agreements and see the progress we have made. We have something to say. We are a core component to industry stability. Teacher needs are crucial to the continuing health and stability of the industry. Being an ESL teacher is an excellent career goal. It should be a destination, not a stepping-stone, a layover, or last resort. For that image to change we need more respect, money, benefits, and job security. The industry will have to belly up to the bar and loosen the purse strings. We will have a voice in any emerging industry regulations. Period.