Eighteen years after they joined the Alberta Teachers’ Association, teachers at Aurora Academic Charter School in Edmonton have their first-ever collective agreement.
Aurora teachers ratified the agreement on Sept. 29 of this year and the school’s board of directors followed suit on Oct. 19, concluding a negotiation process that started with a notice to bargain from the Association in September 2014.
“We are very happy to have a collective agreement because now we have something that is formal, in case there are problems teachers need to grieve or [a dispute] needs to go to arbitration,” said Bill Crockett, a longtime Aurora teacher who chaired the teachers’ negotiating subcommittee.
“Now there’s a process. Before, that wouldn’t have been possible. So getting that security would be the number one thing, above everything.”
The agreement achieved a number of other gains for Aurora teachers, including some brand new benefits, improvements to a number of their existing benefits and increased salaries, Crockett said.
Crockett was at Aurora in 1997 when its teachers became the first from a charter or private school to join the Association. At that time, fellow teacher and negotiating subcommittee member Rick Woodward was leading the movement to establish a salary grid and some other items basic to collective agreements of teachers in Alberta’s public, separate and francophone school jurisdictions — that is, teachers who have Association membership as a legislated condition of employment.
Prior to the establishment of the new collective agreement, Aurora teachers’ benefits and salaries were a part of board policy, and there were no mechanisms in place for negotiating those items.
Aurora teachers were motivated to initiate the collective bargaining process for the first time in their history by a number of policy-making guidelines the board had established. In accordance with the guidelines, the board was allowed to draft, amend and suspend policy at any time. The guidelines also allowed the board to invoke new policy, under emergent circumstances, without the customary three readings.
It made Aurora teachers uneasy to have their salaries and benefits exist as a part of policy that could be changed without notice, Crockett said.
“Money was not the issue,” he said. “It was getting everything agreed to and having that formal process, so that we have a formal document that is straightforward and easy to understand and both sides will know exactly what’s going on.”
The brand new Aurora agreement is a reminder of the value of a collective agreement and of the people who volunteer to do the work of negotiating it, said ATA president Mark Ramsankar.
“It is easy to take for granted some things that have been a part of existing collective agreements for years,” Ramsankar said. “The Aurora agreement reminds us that all of those things that are contained in current collective agreements had to be negotiated at one point. Before and after every bargaining cycle, teachers should take some time to thank those colleagues who volunteer to be on negotiating subcommittees and economic policy committees because it’s not easy work.”
Back in September 2014, when Aurora’s 37 teachers voted on whether to contact the Association to initiate the collective bargaining process, a few weren’t convinced it was a good idea. One year later, when they voted on the collective agreement, 100 per cent were in favour.
“Security was definitely the thing everyone was after,” Crockett said. ❚
Aurora agreement highlights
The collective agreement for Aurora Academic Charter School teachers is for a three-year term ending Aug. 31, 2018. Highlights of the agreement include the first-time establishment of
- employer contributions to maternity leave benefits,
- grievance and arbitration procedures,
- health spending accounts and
- a teacher-board liaison committee.
Also achieved were
- adoption of a salary grid equivalent to that of Edmonton Public Schools,
- significant increases to base administrator allowances and
- the designation of operational days instead of calendar days for compassionate leave or leaves for convocations.
Aurora is one of six charter and private schools whose teachers have opted to have associate membership in the Association and have the Association as their legal bargaining agent.