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Palliser teachers authorize strike vote

Posted on February 26, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Heather Cameron
Sunny South News

On Monday, February 12, the teachers of the Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) Local 19 held a Bargaining Unit General Meeting with over 75 per cent of their members in attendance which heard a motion from the floor to authorize the ATA to take a strike vote, and that motion passed with 92 per cent in favour.

“Strike authorization means the members of Local 19 are asking the ATA (our bargaining agent) to prepare for a strike vote,” said Natalie Townshend, Palliser Substitute Teacher and President of ATA Local 19. “There are several steps that follow so we can’t really estimate a date at this point. The date is influenced by what the division is prepared to do. If they are offering to come back to the table, we will gladly go if they are willing to bargain fairly and consider agreements that look like all other teachers. A neighbouring ATA Local was able to sign a memorandum of agreement with their division today, after 2.5 days of bargaining. Palliser teachers are left wondering why they deserve less?”

Townshend stated that this point was reached after the Palliser School Board and the teachers of ATA Local 19 met for eight days, including three days with a mediator present, to negotiate an updated collective agreement. During those eight days, Townshend said, the Palliser board negotiating team was in the room with the teachers for a total of approximately seven hours, but very little progress was made, and the board refused to sign off on the two important items.  

“Local 19 was asking for the board to address substitute teacher recruitment and retention issues, and fair compensation for all teachers working in colony schools,” said Townshend. “Teacher bargainers were offering low-cost solutions to these problems that are consistent with settlements achieved in other school divisions across the province. On the last day of bargaining, after only 15 minutes of face-to-face meetings, the board presented what they called a ‘final offer’ which is not signed by the parties and stated that if teachers didn’t accept it there would be no bargaining table to come back to.”

Teachers, Townshend stated, did not take kindly to what they saw as an ultimatum, as the board’s proposal made no noticeable improvements over the status quo. 

Townshend says that if a strike is authorized then Palliser teachers will be forced to take job action.  

“It is very disappointing that Palliser teachers have been pushed to this point,” said Townshend. “The Palliser Board came into bargaining with an attitude that was adversarial, rather than collegial. They dismissed teachers’ classroom concerns as being untrue or inaccurate. They wouldn’t engage in face-to-face conversations, and they certainly wouldn’t listen to the concerns presented by teachers; we were treated disrespectfully. We would like to see them offer an opportunity to go back to the table with a sincere interest in achieving a fair settlement. With 56 of 61 local agreements being concluded, we know what fair is.”  

What form this will take has yet to be determined. The Strike Action Committee will be meeting soon to begin to make plans for next steps.

“No date has been set yet,” said Townshend. “We are hoping that the Palliser Board will offer a table to go back to, with a plan to bargain fairly and an intent to settle. We are looking for a settlement that is in line with the other 56 settlements already reached across the province. All Palliser teachers will be asked to vote. It is very disappointing that Palliser teachers have been pushed to this point. We would like to see them offer an opportunity to go back to the table with a sincere interest in achieving a fair settlement.”

Townshend says that a few months back, Palliser teachers completed a survey and outlined their priorities. Those priorities, Townshend said, include ensuring that substitute teachers can get into the division schools. Currently, Townshend says, the division is on track to have 400 sub days unfilled and when that happens teachers and administrators have to give up the little time that teachers have to prepare for lessons and activities, or classes have to be combined, both of which leads to diminished quality education for students. 

“If our substitute teachers are not being treated as well as those in the divisions we share their services with, then they will not choose to come to Palliser schools,” said Townshend. “This will exacerbate the problem that we are already experiencing. Palliser isn’t willing to create conditions that attract and retain subs; they have communicated that there is no issue with substitute teacher availability, but teachers know this is not true. Teachers don’t want to be forced to take action.”

Palliser School Division offered the following statement in response.

“Palliser School Division feels a very fair deal was put forth to our teachers after many days of bargaining and mediation,” said Lorelei Bexte, Board Chair of Palliser School Division. “Every effort was made to reach a fair deal. The Division strives to ensure both the students and teachers are considered during local list bargaining. This is a negotiation of local terms only, as the larger central table will determine provincial-wide terms. We deeply value the work of our teachers and all our staff to support our students. We will continue to work towards a resolution and positive labour relations with the Alberta Teachers’ Association. While we are disappointed that the membership did not agree to the Division’s offer, we respect the decision and will leave it with the ATA’s Bargaining committee to determine next steps.”

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