Thursday, February 9, 2012

Teacher bargaining stalls

It appears that bargaining between the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) and the provincial government for a new collective agreement has broken down over the issue of workload. The teachers’ current contract expires at the end of August.

The government and the ASBA have framed this issue as being about instructional time. Consider this comment by Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk:
"The face time that children have with their teachers is non-negotiable. So our position on behalf of the children is that we want to make sure that there is no diminished learning time."

The ATA suggests the issue is about the broader concept of workload. This would include discussion of non-instructional duties (e.g., meetings, supervision, clerical tasks), which comprise a significant amount of teachers’ work. To bolster their case, the ATA has released a report on teacher workload.

The nub of the report is that the 20 teachers in the study worked an average of 55.7-hours a week (although there was significant variation between participants). Of the 55.7 hours worked, 80 per cent were spent on core instructional activity such as teaching, planning, assessing and reporting. Among the factors driving teacher working time are work intensification, demands driven by technology and increasingly complex student needs.

Before getting drawn into the government’s and ASBA’s framing of the issue (which is basically “oh, think of the children”), it is useful to remember that negotiations are primarily about money. Specifically, limiting teacher workloads will cost the school boards (and thus the government) more money because teachers will have a more effective way to resist work intensification.

It is also useful to see the broader political context. The government sought to resolve teacher bargaining before the spring election so as to neutralize the issue during the campaign and lock up support for the premier among educators and parents. Since this isn’t going to happen, the government is now attempting to place the blame for impasse on the teachers.

And, if provincial talks founder, then bargaining may devolve to individual school boards and locals. This gives the government some deniability if the poop hits the fan in the autumn: school boards are autonomous, although the length of their leash is determined by government funding.

And local bargaining creates difficulties for the ATA maintaining discipline among their locals. Some locals are stronger than others and if a weak local takes a crappy deal, then the ATA either has to nix the deal (which will be politically awkward) or accept a deal that starts an undesirable settlement pattern.

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. The Edmonton Journal budget coverage notes: "The government factored some money into the education budget to cover possible teachers’ salary increases – one per cent for this year and two per cent for each of the following two years."

    Given that CPI is running at 3%, this is clearly an unrealistic number if the government is also unwilling to compromise on workload. Should make for a fun round of bargaining given school boards have relatively little flexibility within their budgets and no ability to raise other revenue.