About 300 northern Alberta teachers have authorized their negotiators to seek a government-supervised strike vote, clearing the way for a possible job action which could affect thousands of students.
During their annual general meeting on Monday, teachers employed by Northern Gateway School Division voted 99 per cent in favour of authorizing the Alberta Teachers’ Association to make the request.
The authorization vote is considered a pre-emptive step in pursuing job action. Northern Gateway teachers can now apply to hold a government-supervised strike vote at any time.
If the teachers do vote to strike in the future, teachers could legally strike after providing 48 hours’ notice to the employer.
Division teachers have been working for over two years without a finalized collective agreement, said Katrina Zack, president of the ATA Northern Gateway Local No 43.
Zack said she hopes Monday’s authorization vote will pressure her employer to negotiate with teachers.
“We want to be treated fairly,” Zack said in an interview Tuesday.
“We are maintaining a level of normalcy for our students in the school. And this this fall has been insanely stressful for teachers, not only in my local, but across this province. This is one more thing that our teachers did not need to deal with.”
The public school board serves Woodlands County, Lac Ste. Anne County and part of the Municipal District of Greenview No. 16.
The division operates 16 schools, four colony schools and four off-campus outreach programs, serving around 5,000 students in the communities of Alberta Beach, Onoway, Rich Valley, Darwell, Sangudo, Mayerthorpe, Whitecourt, Fox Creek and Valleyview.
‘A last resort’
Negotiations between teachers and the division began to stall earlier this month. A government-appointed mediator concluded that the two sides were too far apart to reach a mediated settlement and chose to “write out” of the process on Nov. 2, Zack said.
Following a two-week cooling off period, the parties were free to reach an agreement on their own or begin the process of moving toward a strike or lockout.
At their meeting on Monday, the teachers reviewed the last offer proposed by the division.
The ATA said the latest offer “attempts to strip their collective agreement of a number of long-standing provisions that are standard parts of collective agreements elsewhere.”
The provisions being contested are related to teacher leave, substitute teachers and access to time-in-lieu hours for school administrators, Zack said.
She said a work stoppage can be avoided if the board returns to the bargaining table.
“When we look at our colleagues across the province, over 98 per cent of them have settled their agreement,” Zack said.
“We feel that we have a fair deal on the table and we are prepared to negotiate with our board in order to achieve a fair deal. A work stoppage is our last resort. It is not something teachers want to do.
“Teachers want to be with their students in the classroom.”
The division board has not yet responded to a request for comment.
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