A rocky start to bargaining

June 12, 2012
ATA Staff

School board’s action provokes complaint to labour board

Although collective bargaining in Rocky View School ­Division (RVSD) has just begun, the employer’s actions at the bargaining table have already resulted in the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) filing a complaint that the Rocky View board of trustees is engaging in an unfair labour practice.

The complaint arose when RVSD posted the opening proposals of both parties on its website despite an objection expressed by teacher negotiators. Representatives of both sides met May 29 to exchange and discuss the opening proposals. The ATA objected to the board’s plan to post opening proposals that day and in a letter sent to RSVD two days later. Nonetheless, on June 1, RVSD posted the proposals.

In a statement of complaint filed June 11, ATA legal counsel notes that “The School Division’s actions constitute a stark and abrupt departure from long-standing practice between the parties; they are, at the same time, a departure from the long-standing practice that has subsisted between the ATA and other school districts throughout the Province for many years.” The statement charges that the motive behind the gesture is to create a chill on bargaining efforts by encouraging the public to exert pressure on the ATA to moderate its proposals. The complaint characterizes the actions as “destabilizing” and “destructive” to the bargaining process and describes them as bargaining in bad faith.

“Negotiations work best when meaningful, trustworthy discussions are held at the bargaining table, not on websites and not through the media,” said ­Michelle Glavine, Rocky View Local president. “Debating proposals at the bargaining table allows both sides to discuss the issues underlying the positions, provides the opportunity for questions of clarification and allows for a candid exploration of alternate solutions,” she said.

The Rocky View board does not appear to be alone in publishing or threatening to publish teachers’ opening positions on its website. At least six other boards are following suit.

Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), is reported in the media as saying the idea to post proposals was presented as a viable option to board trustees from across the province at a recent ASBA “bargaining boot camp.” Hansen is quoted as pointing to British Columbia as another jurisdiction where this strategy is used.

The notion that Alberta’s school boards would embrace strategies employed in British Columbia is surprising. The relationship between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association and the provincial government is famously dysfunctional. Over the last two decades, B.C. has endured frequent and protracted labour actions, the passage of a series of repressive laws, appeals and counter-appeals to the courts, and an active campaign by BCTF against the provincial government. At present, things show little sign of improving. Currently, B.C. teachers are challenging the province’s appointment of a mediator whom they regard as biased and, in response to ­legislation that ended their active strike while imposing budget constraints, continue to engage in a teach-only campaign, refusing to perform administrative duties or participate in extracurricular activities.

“We don’t need B.C.-style bargaining in Alberta,” stated ATA President Carol Henderson. “Typically, we have a good relationship with government and a constructive relationship with boards. I hope the ASBA’s boot camp wasn’t about putting the boots to teachers.”

Posting opening proposals isn’t the only provocation related to bargaining coming out of RVSD. Rocky View is one of four jurisdictions in the province that has instructional time clauses that are set to expire before the next school year commences. According to local reports, principals in RVSD have been instructed to staff schools for next year as if the expired clauses do not exist. The other three similar jurisdictions have agreed to staff schools next year with respect for the expiring clauses.

RVSD is one of 62 school boards in Alberta where collective agreements are set to expire at the end of August. The next meeting for negotiations in RVSD is scheduled for the end of August.