Teaching amid a pandemic has been incredibly difficult and stressful for teachers. The situation is compounded for teachers in four school divisions afflicted by added hostility from their school boards.
Teachers working in the Sturgeon, Northern Gateway, Wetaskiwin and CentreNord Francophone school divisions have been working without a finalised collective agreement for more than two years. In those four districts, negotiations have reached an impasse, mediation has failed and teachers have voted to authorise the ATA to request a strike vote.
The problem is recalcitrant boards that refuse to accept terms for settlement that have been achieved in the 55 boards that have already settled.
Simply put, these boards are demanding that their teachers settle for less than what 98 per cent of other teachers in the province already have. To be clear, what is being asked for is not exorbitant or even expensive. As you know, the terms of local settlements in this round of bargaining are quite modest. Most teachers have obtained access to a wellness spending account to use funds that would have previously been put only in a health spending account and some modest improvements for personal leaves, substitute teachers or administrators.
Yet these four employers are still choosing to prolong negotiations and push teachers to the brink before they will budge an inch. The die is cast; the pattern is clearly established. There are 55 other agreements that could be copied and signed off. But these school boards refuse!
I know from experience how frustrating and demoralizing this is for those teachers. I can only imagine how awful it feels when you are already giving it your all teaching on the front lines of this pandemic.
L’Unite Locale Francophone local president Eric Cloutier says teaching in the pandemic is stressful enough without worrying about negotiations.
“Il y a suffisamment de stress à l’heure actuelle sans devoir se soucier de négociations contractuelles avec un employeur qui refuse des demandes raisonnables qui n’ont rien d’inhabituel compte tenu des ententes en vigueur à l’échelle de la province,” says Cloutier.
“Teachers are working exceptionally hard to keep schools operating and to continue providing outstanding education to kids during the pandemic,” says Sturgeon local president Sherri Devolder. “We are doing our best to serve this community and its families, but we don’t feel our efforts are recognized or respected.”
Teachers in these locals do not want to go on strike. There is much to be lost and little to be gained in striking over these matters, but the employers are leaving them with no choices. Teachers either have to accept that they’re willing to be treated as less than teachers working elsewhere, or they have to stand up to their boards and demand to be treated with respect.
“Wetaskiwin teachers just want to be treated similarly to the more than 98 per cent of teachers who have settled their agreements,” says Wetaskiwin local president Morgan Spruyt. “We are not making unreasonable demands; we just want to be treated fairly.”
Northern Gateway’s local president Katrina Zack spoke to parents like her in a column recently printed in the Whitecourt Press. She said that teachers and parents are both incredibly challenged by the pandemic, but that they have come together to put kids first. The board seems to be out of step with this spirit of collaboration.
Zack says teachers want an agreement, but they need a board willing to treat teachers respectfully and fairly.
“Right now, Northern Gateway is not that school board,” Zack writes. “As a parent, I’m frustrated, and I wouldn’t blame you if you were too. This is about priorities, and it’s not clear what priorities the board has.”
What the boards seem to be missing is the long-term impact that this behaviour has on their employees and the relationships between teachers and the board. It is absolutely demoralizing to have your own employer see you as worth less. The situation breeds contempt for the school board that will last for years. Students definitely don’t benefit from that.
Teachers across the province will want to show support for their colleagues at this time. To do so, the Association is promoting the Red for Ed campaign, which encourages all teachers to wear red on Fridays to send a message of solidarity and to let others know that teachers will not be divided and will support each other when it’s time to take a stand.
Share your pictures at #RedForEdAB. I look forward to seeing them! ❚
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