Q & A: Perpetual bargaining not likely under bi-level model

February 9, 2016
Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: I’ve been following the new bargaining model and really like the bi-level concept. However, I’m concerned that the process will never end. We will still be bargaining local items when the central table re-opens! Can’t the process go faster? And why can’t teachers benefit from the central table agreement while local bargaining proceeds?

Answer: The new bargaining model will provide an excellent opportunity to address teachers’ concerns. For the first time, the Government of Alberta will be at the bargaining table and we will be able to discuss our concerns with the funder of public education.

With respect to the process, I’m not convinced that bargaining will never end. The first phase of the process will be to identify all items to be bargained, and to agree on their categorization as either central or local table matters. We are confident that the process will be straightforward and we are very hopeful that we will be able to agree without the utilization of binding arbitration.

Once the list of all matters and their allocation to central and local tables has been set, central table bargaining can begin. It’s important to recognize the difference between central bargaining and provincial bargaining: the latter produces a single collective agreement. That is not the reality facing Alberta teachers. Once central table matters are concluded, we open at the local table in each of 61 bargaining units.

Of course, this process will take time. A memorandum of agreement at the central table will need to be ratified by members across the province. If a school board is not serious about local table bargaining, the Labour Relations Code has solutions for that. A mediator can assist with the talks; if that doesn’t work, it’s possible to call a strike vote, serve notice and commence labour action against the local board.

Depending upon the term, I suspect it is possible for a new round of central table bargaining to start before local bargaining from the previous round ends. But teachers can make decisions about the process, hold their board’s feet to the fire and get the job done.

It’s not possible to benefit from the product of central table bargaining before the local table is resolved. Both parts are required to conclude a collective agreement, and the conclusion of central table bargaining could provide impetus to complete local bargaining.

In Ontario, which introduced bi-level bargaining two years ago, some bargaining units commenced strike action at the local level before central table bargaining was concluded. The Government of Alberta did not choose to model its bargaining structure after Ontario’s, instead opting for a sequenced process of central then local bargaining.

I’m looking forward to the new round of bargaining and the opportunity to discuss central matters with the funder.❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).