Let the Bargaining Begin

Well, first of all….my apologies for anyone who actually follows my blog.  Really?  A whole month since my last post?  Where has my head been?  I’ve been wrapped up a little in some personal issues but I promise to try and be better.

Five years ago the Alberta government had all teachers in the province sign a 5 year collective agreement that guaranteed peace and stability among teachers in our province with no threat of job action.  But, if we’re being honest, I think we were a little bullied into the agreement.  We were told that if we signed the deal, the government would pay for the portion of the Unfunded Liability that was currently coming off my paycheck. The history behind this is long and I won’t go into it but it was a sore spot between the government and teachers across the province.  Especially those of us new to the profession who were paying for mistakes made long before I was even considering teaching as a career. We were also told that should we fail to sign the agreement, this offer would never be made again.

But the government made an error.  For you see, in this same agreement they agreed to attach our yearly salary increase to the Alberta Average Weekly Wage Index (resulting in wage increases of roughly 2% – 5% on average).  Then they failed to budget it for it accordingly.  When oil prices fell and the government cried out that they were in hard times, they begged us not take our salary raises and save them from a budget crisis.  We were made to look like evil villains in several newspaper articles.  The government basically said it was our fault that funding would be cut to the education sector and jobs would be lost…

In other words, after forcing us to sign a five year contract with serious consequences should we strike or raise job action during those five years….the government wanted to scale back on their offer.  This didn’t sit well with those of us who remember a 35% MLA salary increase.

Depending on which newspaper you picked up, we were villianized.  It was us greedy teachers who would ultimately be responsible for the millions of dollars cut in education funding and the massive job losses that resulted.  There were some spirited exchanges between the Minister of Education (Dave Hancock at the time) and the president of the ATA.  Accusations were thrown around about who said what and really it turned into a soap opera affair of “he said/she said”.

To be honest, I live with the harsh judgement of the public everyday and I’ve learned to let it roll off my back.  I’ve heard it all and if you’re a teacher….so have you.  According to the public view I work 6 hours a day for a mere 40 weeks a year and I am overpaid for this job already, forget about salary increases.  Those of us who teach know better and I refuse to defend myself to those who would talk down to me.  If it were really that easy everyone would want to be a teacher and secretly these people who criticize us know that.

So what is the point of all this?

The five year contract is up as of August 2012.  This is a bargaining year and there is a committee referred to as the EPC (Economic Policy Committee) that plays a role in the negotiations.  Tired of letting other people have a say in my fate and not truly understanding what really goes on at the bargaining table, I have joined the EPC committee.  My first meeting with them is tomorrow and I’ve been asked to bring a copy of my local collective agreement.  In a year where I was told I need to reduce stress in my life I may have made a fatal error, but the fact remains that if I want my voice heard then it’s time to step up to the firing line.

I’m ready to sit at the table and listen to what the government has to offer this time.  While there’s lots of rumor and speculation, I feel like I can confidently say that a 5 year contract with wage increases tied to the Alberta Weekly Wage Index….won’t be part of the offer.

But in the past few months I’ve watched Alberta elect it’s first female premier, Alison Redford, who seems to actually believe that education is a priority.  And I’ve sat in on a public forum sponsored by our new Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk in regards to Bill 18:  The New Education Act for Alberta.  I have more faith in my government and my province now that I’ve had in my short ten year career thus far.  

A friend and I agree that we are “skeptically optimistic” about what the future might hold.  But I for one, intend to see what the possibilities are.  

So in a bargaining year I say, “Come on Alberta.  Let’s dance…..”


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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One Response to Let the Bargaining Begin

  1. Vi Sandford, Trustee CRPS says:

    Thank you for that post. It is great to hear that you are taking your perspective and insight to the EPC. I am watching the 2012 date carefully; we’ll see how the process unfolds.

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