Question: When do you think we will go on a provincewide strike?
Answer: The Association is not planning for a provincewide strike. We are very hopeful that bargaining, under the new Public Education Collective Bargaining Act, will be low-key and productive. Besides, we have many steps before anything approaching a strike would be called.
In the next few weeks, we will be meeting with representatives of the newly created Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA), and our first order of business will be to discuss what matters will be discussed in bargaining, including what will be addressed at the central table and what will be addressed at the local table. We have certainly been bringing a common-sense approach to our position, and we are very hopeful that the establishment of the list of all matters for negotiation will not be contentious.
Bargaining will then commence at the central table, and it’s far from clear how long this will take. The Association has established the Central Table Bargaining Committee (CTBC) to represent our bargaining unit members in these discussions. This committee, made up of five members of Provincial Executive Council, will lead central table bargaining, with staff, legal counsel and other resources as may be required.
We are planning for productive discussions. If negotiations do not lead to a central table agreement, the provisions of the Labour Relations Code apply. A mediator is assigned to assist, and that intervention could help conclude a central table agreement. If it does not, there is no strike (or lockout) until mediation efforts formally break down (for example, a mediator’s recommendations are rejected or the mediator does not make recommendations).
The Association can ask for a secret ballot strike vote, supervised by the Labour Relations Board, and if more than half of the bargaining unit members vote in favour of strike action, the Association can serve strike notice on 72 hours’ notice. (And TEBA can seek a lockout vote, as well.)
The Public Education Collective Bargaining Act also provides for right to strike (and lockout) at the local table, so it is certainly possible that after a central table agreement is reached, an agreement at the local table can become difficult to achieve. The above steps also apply to local table bargaining.
So there are many steps before a strike could be called in the months ahead. In any event, our focus is on settlements, not strikes. We will be communicating throughout the process, so if we encounter problems, bargaining unit members will certainly know. We are certainly mindful of the challenges facing the province at the present time, but we are also hopeful for a round of bargaining that addresses the concerns of teachers across Alberta. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (email@example.com).