Teachers from Sturgeon, Northern Gateway and Wetaskiwin frustrated with stall tactics
Sherri Devolder, Katrina Zack and Morgan Spruyt have had enough.
The three local presidents are expressing similar concerns about school boards dragging their feet and refusing to recognize the clear trend for local bargaining settlements. The teachers in their locals — Sturgeon, Northern Gateway and Wetaskiwin — are among the approximately 1,600 teachers across Alberta who have been working without a finalized local agreement for more than two years.
Teachers in all three divisions have now voted to authorize the ATA to request a government-supervised strike vote. Each group passed its respective motion with more than 92 per cent in favour. The three locals join teachers from North Central Francophone and Horizon, which have also authorized strike votes this school year. Negotiations in Horizon have since been settled.
“Northern Gateway teachers are frustrated, and disappointed that they are being treated without consideration, in light of everything they are being challenged with while teaching in the middle of a pandemic,” Zack said.
“While the teachers were trying to negotiate, the employer decided to stall the finalizing of a contract that expired two years ago.”
“Teachers are working exceptionally hard to keep schools operating and to continue providing outstanding education to kids during the pandemic,” she said. “We are doing our best to serve this community and its families, but we don’t feel our efforts are recognized or respected.”
In all three cases, school board negotiators are refusing to budge on elements that have been almost universally accepted elsewhere, like a combined health and wellness savings account.
Out of sync
Sean Brown, the ATA’s associate co-ordinator of collective bargaining, said the board positions are out of sync with the settlements made in the 55 other school divisions that have already settled.
“Many of the provisions sought by these bargaining units are now standard in teacher collective agreements,” he said. “Teachers should not have to accept terms that are less favourable than those offered to their colleagues across the province.
”These boards want to drag their feet and delay the inevitable, which is only serving to make teachers feel frustrated and unappreciated. No one needs this right now.”
The ATA can now apply to hold a government-supervised strike vote at any time. If a strike mandate is approved, teachers could legally strike after providing 72 hours’ notice to their employer.
Despite rising tensions and a willingness to strike, Devolder, Zack and Spruyt all emphasize that a work stoppage can be avoided if the boards return to bargaining and negotiate constructively in an effort to reach a reasonable agreement in line with those already signed across the province.
“If the board is willing to engage in meaningful discussions, we are prepared to negotiate — a work stoppage is a last resort,” Spruyt said.
“Wetaskiwin teachers just want to be treated similarly to the more than 98 per cent of teachers who have settled their agreements. We are not making unreasonable demands; we just want to be treated fairly.”
For Devolder, the vote demonstrates a new, more difficult relationship teachers have with the school division.
“Sturgeon School Division and Sturgeon teachers have prided themselves in the past as having a good and trusting relationship, but this round of bargaining has strained that.” ❚