Teachers appear to be feeling positive about the province’s new bi-level bargaining model but have questions about maintaining equity and protecting the top-notch benefits that have been achieved in some collective agreements.
Approximately 170 teachers gathered Saturday, Jan. 9 at Barnett House for bargaining consultation sessions. The group was comprised mostly of local presidents and Economic Policy Committee (EPC) chairs.
Kathryn Howe, EPC chair for Evergreen Local No. 11, was among several attendees who told the ATA News that she was feeling positive about the new bargaining model.
“I’m optimistic,” she said, adding, “I’m apprehensive. If you’re at the top end and have some golden eggs, that you will still have them or that the board will still view them in the same way as they currently do.”
The sessions included an overview of the new bargaining model, as laid out by the recently passed Bill 8, and gathered input from local representatives about which matters should be discussed centrally versus locally. Like Howe, Greater Peace Local No. 13 president Kevin Munch wondered how the new central bargaining process will protect locals that have worked hard to achieve superior benefits in some areas.
“For instance, if we got maternity leave brought to the central table, are there units that may wind up losing out because they’ve got really good maternity leave and we wind up averaging out for the whole province?” he said.
For Michelle Drapaka, EPC chair for Lakeland Catholic Separate Local No. 30, central bargaining may be a way to attain some of the achievements that have occurred in larger locals.
“We’re a smaller local and we might get a chance to maybe get some things into a contract that we haven’t been successful in doing in the past,” she said.
Jennifer Fredeen, EPC chair of Elk Island Local No. 28, said she’s “cautiously excited” about the new process but is concerned that teachers retain the same rights “and nothing goes backwards.”
“Making sure that everything gets on our list so that we can still bargain everything and making sure that locals still have autonomy to do things as well,” she said.
David Ripkens, president of Northern Lights Local No. 15, said he’s confident that central bargaining will benefit Alberta teachers and ensure that it meets the needs of all teachers and doesn’t serve one group more than others.
“I’m very confident that the input from teachers through EPCs and presidents is going to be received and given thoughtful consideration,” he said.
For Derek Resler, president of Lethbridge Public School Local No. 41, one of the big question marks is the long-term viability of bi-level bargaining in a province that has traditionally been conservative.
“Hopefully we can get something where we have two rounds of bargaining and set a precedent,” he said. “Hopefully it works well and we prove that it works well on more than one occasion.” ❚