Frustration is mounting within 10 bargaining units that are still negotiating local agreements for the period from September 2016 to August 2018.
Co-ordinator, Teacher Welfare
“I’m frustrated and quite frankly perplexed as to why some school boards have set about this course of action — we’re talking about a collective agreement that’s already expired,” said Sandra Johnston, co-ordinator of the Teacher Welfare program area of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, which oversees bargaining throughout the province.
A new bi-level bargaining model implemented in 2016 included a central table agreement affecting all teachers in the province, followed by 61 separate negotiations on local matters. That central table agreement, and any subsequent local agreements, took effect Sept. 1, 2016 and expired Aug. 31, 2018. However, 10 bargaining units are still trying to reach those local agreements.
Johnston said teachers will have to be strong.
“They’re going to have to demonstrate to their employer their resolve using all legal means at their disposal,” Johnston said.
Most of the 10 bargaining units have applied for assistance from a government-appointed mediator, who can help the parties reach an agreement, compel them to vote on their recommended terms for settlement or simply decide that the parties are too far apart and “write out” of the process. After a mediator writes out, either party may begin the process to move toward a strike or lockout.
On Dec. 19, teachers with St. Paul Education Regional Division No. 1 voted 90 per cent in favour of authorizing the ATA to request a government-supervised strike vote. After a cooling-off period that ends in mid-January, teachers will have the option of proceeding with a strike vote.
President, Greater St. Paul Local No. 25
This step came after members of the bargaining unit rejected a memorandum reached through collective bargaining and a subsequent agreement proposed by a mediator. Teachers are frustrated at the amount of time it’s taking to reach an agreement but want to see significant improvements, said local president Connie Landsiedel.
“They don’t want to be at the bottom anymore. Two of our principals are at the absolute bottom of the principals’ allowance in the province. It’s very frustrating,” Landsiedel said.
Even though a strike is being considered, Landsiedel is hopeful that a deal can be reached before strike action takes place.
“I would really like to see it get resolved, but on the other hand there’s going to have to be some improvements before our teachers are going to accept it,” she said.
Board chair Heather Starosielski told the St. Paul Journal that trustees are disappointed.
“The board of trustees is disappointed and surprised that in the last month the ATA has twice voted down settlements that were supported by the local ATA negotiations committee, the provincial ATA representative and the government-appointed mediator,” she said.
Disappointed in Red Deer
In Red Deer Catholic Regional Division No. 39, more than a year-and-a-half of bargaining has included numerous negotiation and mediation sessions.
President, Red Deer Catholic Local No. 80
“None of this has gotten us any closer to bringing an agreement back to our members,” said Stephen Merredew, president of Red Deer Catholic Local No. 80.
The bargaining unit applied for voluntary interest arbitration and proposed this to the employer as a possible next step. It is awaiting a response.
What teachers are seeking, Merredew says, are small items to help with work–life balance, such as expanding the definition of family so that medical leave is more inclusive, and fewer restrictions on personal leave.
“They’re disappointed that we haven’t had more progress to bring back to them,” Merredew said. “They’re disappointed that the process seems to be dragging on at a very slow pace.”
In December, the Alberta Labour Relations Board found the Red Deer Catholic division guilty of unfair bargaining practices after some of the division’s top administrators engaged in communication that interfered with the ATA’s ability to represent its members.
While these actions have frustrated teachers, Merredew remains optimistic that a deal can be reached. The key is to focus on the issues that teachers have identified as important.
“If we all keep those in mind, I think that we’ll be able to come to a resolution without having to engage in more contentious avenues,” he said.
Lack of respect
President, the Alberta Teachers’ Association
ATA president Greg Jeffery is concerned about the lack of respect being demonstrated by school boards that are dragging out the negotiation process, a sign of strained relationships.
“In some of these places these disputes have been simmering for 10 years,” he said.
He maintains, however, that the bi-level bargaining model works.
“It’s a good process because it respects teachers’ rights,” he said. ❚