Aurora Charter School teachers take risk for security of collective agreement
From the outside, it looked like a cakewalk. On the inside, it was a significant risk taken by teachers looking for security.
On Oct. 27 teachers from Aurora Charter School voted 88 per cent in support of reaffirming the Alberta Teachers’ Association as their legal bargaining agent. With their vote, Aurora teachers defied the publicly stated wishes of their employer which, only weeks earlier, had applied to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to have the bargaining certificate of the Association revoked. The vote rendered the board’s application null and void.
Aurora teachers were the first from a charter or private school to join the Association. They did so in 1997 when they were seeking the establishment of a salary grid and some other items basic to the collective agreements of teachers having ATA membership as a legislated condition of employment (that is, teachers employed by any public, separate or francophone school board in the province).
Aurora teachers of that time never concluded a collective agreement, but over the years they maintained an associate class of ATA membership and, subsequently, the Association as their legal bargaining agent.
Bill Crockett was one of those Aurora teachers who led the initiative to join the Association in 1997. Today he is the chair of the newly formed economic policy committee and negotiating subcommittee. For him, collective bargaining came back on the radar after the Aurora board introduced policies allowing any policy to be invoked or suspended at any time.
“It’s our livelihood, right? We’re not just talking about a few extra benefits here and there. This is everybody’s livelihood, so we wanted it to be safe and secure,” said Crockett, emphasizing that Aurora teachers’ salaries and benefits aren’t guaranteed in a collective agreement and are subject to policy and decisions that don’t require teacher input.
Crockett and the Aurora teachers made a substantial effort to work with their board before contacting the Association, Crockett said. They approached the Aurora board with a proposal to develop an agreement between the two parties that would be separate from policy and address items typically included in a collective agreement.
After three failed attempts to have the board consider their proposal, teachers held a straw vote in April 2014 to see whether there was support for contacting the ATA and moving forward with the collective bargaining process. There was — more than 80 per cent, in fact.
Aurora teachers and Association staff met on April 29. Since then, there have been a myriad of ups and downs, twists and turns as the teachers try to kickstart the inaugural collective bargaining process with their board.
Where things go from here for the teachers of Aurora is hard to foresee. But they now have the opportunity to participate in the collective bargaining process. ❚