This is the first article in a new series by the Teacher Welfare (TW) program area of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
At the end of August 2012, the Association’s 62 collective agreements will expire. In fact, some bargaining units can open their collective agreements and enter into negotiations as early as January 2012. These developments raise many questions: What does collective bargaining mean for you? What is your role in the collective bargaining process? How does collective bargaining connect with the professional side of teaching? And at the root of it all is the fundamental question: Why should you care? While subsequent articles will address that question, this article explains the value of collective bargaining and how teachers can play a role in it.
The teaching profession and collective bargaining
The Teaching Profession Act established the Alberta Teachers’ Association and set out its objectives. The Association exists to improve the profession through its legislated mandate to
- promote recruitment and selection practices that ensure capable candidates for teacher education;
- promote adequate preservice preparation programs and organize support groups to improve the knowledge and skill of teachers;
- organize meetings and produce publications and research designed to maintain and improve the competence of teachers;
- advise, assist, protect and discipline members; and
- promote working conditions that make possible the best level of professional service.
ATA policy, developed through the Annual Representative Assembly (the ATA’s annual general meeting), has held that a legitimate and effective method to promote working conditions that provide the best level of professional service is through the collective bargaining process authorized under the Labour Relations Code. Through collective bargaining, elected teacher representatives, supported by Teacher Welfare staff, meet representatives from the teachers’ employing school board to discuss conditions under which teachers will provide professional service. These conditions include instructional time, duties that teachers perform outside instruction time, the number of students for which teachers will provide professional services, procedures for leaves of absence when teachers are unable to provide professional service and the salary that teachers will be paid for their professional service.
Every teacher has a right to participate in the bargaining process by completing surveys on working conditions, proposing topics for inclusion in teachers’ proposals and ratifying those proposals, voting on the results of collective bargaining, and volunteering to sit on bargaining committees.
Negotiations for new collective agreements will begin in spring 2012. In the coming months, bargaining committees will collect information and develop opening proposals for negotiations. Now is the time for each teacher to engage in personal and collegial discussions regarding the question: What are the necessary conditions you need to provide your best level of professional service?