Editorial: Democracy is the heart of our association

May 16, 2017
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

I am writing today’s editorial on Thursday, May 11, just as polls are opening, so teachers can vote on whether or not to ratify the memorandum of agreement reached after months of central table bargaining. It is also the first day of the last Provincial Executive Council meeting before the Association’s 100th Annual Representative Assembly. In this context, I cannot help but be inspired by the power of democracy within our association.

The purpose of collective bargaining is to bring the voices of workers together to ensure they are treated fairly and have input into their conditions of employment. A ratification vote is the ultimate measure of teachers’ voices in the bargaining process. First, teachers filled out surveys to identify their bargaining needs. Those survey results were used to develop the Association’s opening position for bargaining. Once a memorandum of agreement was reached, we brought it back to members for a direct vote on the proposal. Teachers ultimately have a direct say in whether the memorandum will become part of the collective agreement or not. And if not, teachers will determine what happens next.

Aside from this fine example of direct democracy, we also use the power of representative democracy well. Earlier this year, teachers from across the province had an opportunity to vote for the Association’s president, vice-presidents and district representatives — Provincial Executive Council (PEC). Not only do your elected representatives meet on a regular basis to govern the affairs of the Association, but they also played a critical role representing teachers in the bargaining process.

While continuing their work as ­active teachers in schools, your PEC representatives also worked to build and approve that opening position for bargaining. Five PEC members sat directly at the central bargaining table to represent and advance the views of teachers, and PEC was provided with an opportunity to discuss the agreement and offer its recommendation to teachers on its ratification.

As I mentioned earlier, your provincial council is meeting as I write this editorial. Aside from bargaining, they will make many other important decisions on the governance of Alberta’s teaching profession. Among other things, they will assign teachers to serve on a number of Association and external committees; they will consider the hearing reports of professional conduct committees; and they will ­recommend policy to go forward to the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA),
May 20 – 22.

ARA, then, is the pinnacle of Association democracy. This weekend, 450 of your teaching colleagues, elected or appointed by your locals, will meet for the 100th time to serve as the legislature of Alberta’s teaching profession. They will debate educational policy; they will establish directives for Association programming; and they will approve the budget that outlines how much is charged for members’ fees and how those fees will be spent. These teacher representatives give up their Victoria Day long weekend to ensure that the voice of teachers continues to drive the Association.

So, whether it is through representative democracy at the Annual Representatives Assembly, through the work of your elected officials on Provincial Executive Council or through direct democracy votes like the recent ratification vote, your Association is driven by you. When I witness all of these examples of democracy in action, I can’t help but be inspired. ❚

I welcome your comments — contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.