The Alberta Teachers’ Association is optimistic as it prepares to enter the first round of negotiations under the new bi-level bargaining model established last month, says president Mark Ramsankar.
The NDP government’s Bill 8, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act, introduces a new bi-level model for bargaining teacher collective agreements in Alberta. The model, which the Association supports, provides for matters of significant expense or common interest to be negotiated at a central table while other local matters would be bargained with individual school boards.
“Our policy supports this type of bi-level bargaining, and I think that Bill 8 proposes a fair and efficient process for achieving collective agreements,” Ramsankar said. “Through this act, the government has committed to taking an active role in bargaining—it is vitally important that the funder be at the table.”
Central table negotiations will occur between representatives of the ATA and a yet-to-be-established Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA), which will include government and school board representatives.
The new bargaining model features three sequential stages. The first stage includes discussions between the ATA and TEBA about which matters will be discussed at the central table versus the local tables. The second stage is the central table negotiations between the two parties, and the third stage involves local negotiations between the ATA and individual school boards at each of the 61 local tables.
This process will be used to conclude new collective agreements for every school board in the province, replacing those that expire on Aug. 31, 2016. In the event that new agreements are not in place before that date, existing collective agreements will continue in place until a settlement is reached or a strike or lockout occurs.
The timelines for the first round of negotiations are set in the legislation and require a significant amount of work in a short period of time, says Sandra Johnston, co-ordinator of the ATA’s Teacher Welfare program area. But she says the Association is ready to take on this work.
“Bi-level bargaining presents great opportunities for teachers as well as a number of logistical challenges,” Johnston said. “Economic Policy Committees (EPCs) have been preparing for this round of bargaining for a while and now that the bargaining model is known, they are moving into high gear.”
An emergent meeting of local presidents and bargaining unit EPC chairs took place Jan. 9 in Edmonton to provide an overview of the legislation, to seek advice about provincial processes and to gather input about the matters that should be discussed at the central table and those that should be discussed at the local tables.
Discussions between the Association and TEBA about what matters will be discussed at each level will begin at some point between March 1 and April 1. After 60 days, disputes about what matters are negotiated at which table can be referred to an arbitrator.
The second stage of central bargaining needs to begin within 30 days after the lists of matters have been determined. Local negotiations, the third stage, are required to begin within 60 days after a central agreement is ratified.
The Association will be receiving direction from teachers throughout the process and will need to regularly consult with members, Ramsankar said.
“We are asking local officials and EPCs for a list of all matters that need to be discussed in the next round of negotiations, and we are asking them about which items should be discussed locally versus centrally—this information will help inform provincial council’s position on the lists of matters,” said Ramsankar. “Throughout the process we will be surveying teachers and engaging them on the important decisions that inform bargaining.”
Ramsankar said the Association will survey teachers this spring about their conditions of practice and compensation expectations to develop both a provincial opening proposal and local opening proposals. He said that as bargaining proceeds, teachers will be asked to vote, as required, on different actions that may be needed to move bargaining forward.
“Of course,” Ramsankar says, “any potential agreements reached at both the central table and the local tables will need to be ratified by a vote of individual teachers.”
Ramsankar says communication will be key to ensuring that teachers stay informed throughout the process. He is urging teachers to obtain a login for the ATA’s website at teachers.ab.ca so that they can review Members Only updates, and he is also asking them to update their online profile to ensure that the Association has up-to-date contact information, including email addresses that are independent of their employer-owned technology.
“Collective bargaining is based on the foundations of democracy,” says Ramsankar. “But democracy is a two-way street that requires ongoing communication from the Association and the active engagement of the members.” ❚