Friday, March 15, 2013

Teachers, province sign deal; will boards resist?

I’ve just finished reading a new book chapter detailing the history of Alberta teacher’s collective bargaining. “Oil and ideology: The transformation of K-12 bargaining in Alberta” (by Kelly Williams-Whitt) appears in Dynamic Negotiations: Teacher labour relations in Canadian elementary and secondary education

Williams-Whitt’s analysis suggests that the Klein-era K-12 funding changes (when school boards lost the power to tax) triggered a shift towards province-wide negotiations (both officially and de facto) over the subsequent 15 years. In effect, school boards got squeezed between the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and the province.  Her analysis leaves off in 2010, just as the ATA, the Alberta School Board’s Association (ASBA) and the government started tripartite negotiations for an agreement to replace the one that expired in August of 2012.

Fast forward through several years of negotiations, threats and tantrums and last night the ATA and province announced they’d signed a memorandum for a four-year deal. It looks like the ATA met with the Premier last Thursday to hash out a deal (which makes Education Minister Jeff Johnson's threat of legislating a contract on March 12 all the odder--was Johnson blowing smoke? Or was he cut out of the negotiation?). It appears the ASBA was not a part of this process, although the framework agreement requires them to sell it to their members(!).

“I can tell you that based on my first look at this latest proposal developed by the ATA and government — without the employer at the table — this agreement will have serious negative impacts on the education we provide in Alberta classrooms and schools,” ASBA Jacque Hansen wrote to her members.

Interestingly, all 62 school boards and ATA locals must ratify this by May 13; if any one ATA local or school board fails to ratify, then the deal falls through and local bargaining resumes.

The deal itself includes three years of zeros, a 2.0% raise in 2015 and a one-time 1.0% payment in 2015 (plus maybe some equalization money for low-end boards—it is hard to parse what the agreement means). There is also a promise by the province to look at teacher workloads, perhaps a nod to a study released by the ATA on work-life balance and attrition in Alberta schools. The government also agrees to retain existing language on instructional limits and there will be an effort to reduce instructional time to 907 hours per year. Local bargaining on some issues will continue.

There is also a letter signed by the Premier and the Minister promising to not do a variety of things. It is a bit hard to determine what is being promised (it is highly legalistic in its phrasing) but it looks like the government is promising not to attack statutory provisions affecting teacher rights and the ATA’s position as bargaining agent. It provides the ATA with a promise of input into any significant changes in the collective bargaining process (although what changes are contemplated are unclear).

The manner in which this deal was negotiated (basically the province and the ATA have foisted a deal on the ASBA) is consistent with the trends identified by Williams-Whitt. Interestingly, whether this memorandum passes ratification and its operational implications (e.g., class size, teacher layoffs) lie largely within the control of ASBA members. School boards have already been directed to reduce administrative expenses by 10% (which some view as micro-management) so there is still room for this deal to go off the rails. 

There is also the possibility that an ATA local won't play ball. One presumes the ATA will work hard to sell the deal, playing up the bits around containing instructional hours. But, from a pocket-book perspective, three years without a cost-of-living adjustment followed by a small adjustment (a third of which is one-time money) and no layoff protection is simply a bad deal. I know I wouldn't vote for something like that if my employer offered it.

-- Bob Barnetson


  1. So, in a convoluted decision, the Edmonton Public School Board has unanimously recommended to the Alberta School Boards Association that the ASBA not recommend the deal to its members.

    Regardless of what the ASBA does, each individual school board will need to vote on whether or not to ratify the deal. If any school board (or ATA local) fails to ratify, the province-wide deal fails. While it is likely politically easier to vote to (not) recommend something than to vote down the deal itself, this is an interest development.

  2. The Calgary Public Board has also recommended not recommending the deal. Paula Simons has written a piece on this pushback from the school boards. The interesting aspect of this pushback is that school boards are suggesting that they are the champions of students' interests (ground the ATA and the government have often fought to hold) and that this deal will result in layoffs and larger classes: