Local bargaining for the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 school years was completed in March after agreements were signed in the final two school divisions.
An agreement was reached on March 10 in Conseil Scolaire FrancoSud (CSFS) and on March 21 in the Wetaskiwin School Division. The latter agreement followed tense negotiations that saw teachers vote 92 per cent in favour of requesting a government-supervised strike vote.
“Wetaskiwin teachers were extremely disheartened to have reached that point, especially in light of everything we were challenged with while teaching during the pandemic,” said Morgan Spruyt, president of ATA Local No. 18.
“Our expectations and asks in bargaining were not different from what has been achieved elsewhere. The things we’re asking for (protections for substitute teachers and a wellness spending account, among others) are standard in teacher agreements elsewhere, so our position is both reasonable and affordable.”
Spruyt’s comments echoed sentiments expressed by teachers across the province. Of the last six locals to conclude bargaining, five voted in favour of requesting a government-supervised strike vote — each by more than 90 per cent.
Teachers in one of those divisions, Conseil Scolaire Centre-Nord, also voted 94 per cent in favour of taking strike action, but signed an agreement with their board less than four days later.
“The decision to go on strike was not made lightly or without much discussion, but the results of that vote showed the solidarity of our members,” says Éric Cloutier, president of L’Unité locale francophone No. 24.
“We knew the impact this has on parents and our students, and we are truly disappointed the board put us all in this position, but the vote results showed that our teachers believed they had no other choice.”
A major barrier to reaching agreements was board unwillingness to accept terms that were standard in other contracts across the province, such as wellness accounts and administrative lieu days, the presidents agreed. In an op-ed column published March 17 in the Wetaskiwin Times, Spruyt pointed out that Wetaskiwin teachers were asking to have what 99 per cent of other teachers in Alberta had received. She also emphasized an incongruency in the Wetaskiwin board’s approach to bargaining and its relationship to teachers.
“What’s particularly frustrating is the board prioritizes teacher wellness, yet they have been unwilling to offer a wellness account to teachers until later this year, when other education workers at Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools have had one for years,” she says. “We are also concerned the board chose to use public dollars to purchase new technology for its central office, rather than sending it to schools to make classrooms safer.”
“This is about priorities, and it’s not clear what priorities the board has.”
Ultimately, Spruyt, Cloutier and the other presidents are relieved to be able to focus on teaching.
“Teachers have been tested in ways we could never have imagined, but I’m so grateful for how teachers and parents have come together to put kids first and to do our best to make sure they’re still getting a good education,” says Spruyt. “That’s the most important thing.” ❚