ATA to launch legal challenge of Bill 9

June 24, 2019 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is launching a legal challenge of Bill 9, the UCP government’s legislation that will delay an arbitrated decision on teacher salaries.

During a weekend meeting, the Association’s table officers authorized the organization’s law firm to launch a constitutional challenge on the grounds that the act violates the ATA’s right to free collective bargaining.

“We are standing up for our rights along with the rest of the public sector,” said ATA president Greg Jeffery. “We will continue to demand that contracts and agreements, freely entered into, are respected.”

A central table agreement reached earlier this year included a provision to employ interest arbitration to determine teacher salaries. The agreement stipulates that this arbitration must take place by Sept. 30. However, Bill 9 delays that arbitration from proceeding until after Oct 31.

The new deadline for arbitration is Dec 15. Regardless of the length of the delay, it’s necessary to fight the government’s move on principle, Jeffery said.

“Teachers are certainly frustrated with taking six zeroes in seven years, and there was hope for this arbitration that we might finally get some relief, and to have that snatched away at the last moment has been frustrating for our membership,” Jeffery said. “We need to tell the government that this is not an acceptable way to handle labour relations.”

Also on Monday, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees announced that it was launching a legal challenge. The United Nurses of Alberta made such an announcement last Friday. It’s believed that a number of other public sector unions are preparing similar challenges.

Freedom of association

The challenge will be in regard to section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The unions will argue that the act interferes with their right to free collective bargaining and, therefore, violates their freedom of association, said Sandra Johnston, co-ordinator of the ATA’s Teacher Welfare program area.

“Interest arbitration was a compromise teachers and TEBA agreed to when we could not agree on salary but still wanted to come to an agreement. Now, the compromise of interest arbitration is being treated like it is an affront to the public interest. It is in the public interest,” she said.

The government has justified Bill 9 by saying it needs to get a better picture of its upcoming budget before determining public sector salaries, but Jeffery isn’t buying that argument.

“They’ve cut corporate taxes already … there’s a 30-million-dollar war room being created … so that seems like language from the government that really doesn’t stand up because they’ve made a number of large-scale fiscal moves already, but suddenly they can’t honour collective agreements bargained in good faith,” he said.

Jeffery noted that the government is expecting to receive a report on Aug. 15 from a blue ribbon panel established to inform its fall budget, and the chair of the panel has previously said that a simple solution would be a two per cent wage rollback throughout the public sector.

“If they’re just waiting for that to be formalized, certainly we have no interest in that whatsoever,” Jeffery said. “There would be absolutely no appetite for a rollback or for another zero.”

Bill 9, The Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, passed third reading on June 19. Despite its legal challenge, the ATA is primarily focused on preparing for interest arbitration, whenever it does take place.

“We’re not losing sight of the fact that we need to succeed in this arbitration,” Jeffery said.