A photo of Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling.
A screenshot of Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling in a recent YouTube video. Credit: YouTube

Former Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) president Larry Booi said that the ATA will need to turn to strong political action to improve working conditions for teachers. 

Booi, who served as ATA president from 1999 to 2003, said this after the ATA narrowly voted to accept a contract recommended by a mediator. 

On June 9, the ATA voted by 51 per cent to accept a collective bargaining agreement. The Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association (TEBA), which represents ATA’s employer, also voted to ratify the agreement a day later. 

“The results clearly show that this offer is the absolute minimum that teachers were willing to accept,” said Jason Schilling, current ATA president, in a press release

Booi also expressed dissatisfaction with the mediator’s recommendations. Booi and two other former ATA presidents, Carol Henderson and Frank Bruseker, wrote a letter urging teachers to reject the mediator’s settlement. The letter said that the wage increases proposed in the settlement would continue to make teachers ‘fall behind’ the current rate of inflation. The letter also says the settlement fails to address frustrations with classroom conditions. 

Schilling said that advocacy for lower class sizes will continue, according to an article published by Global News, either through policy or through the next round of bargaining. 

“As the provincial election draws near, teachers will use public advocacy and political action to press for much needed and long-overdue improvements,” Schilling.

Booi said that the ATA needs to win through political action what they failed to achieve through collective bargaining.

“For two years, you can’t address problems teachers are facing through collective bargaining,” Booi said in an interview with rabble.ca. “I think what you’re going to see the association do is use an alternative approach. That is a political solution to political problems.”

Booi pointed to how decisions that affect teachers’ work conditions are made by the government.

“When one door closes, another opens. That door is political advocacy,” Booi said. 

Booi said there have already been ‘rumblings’ about how the ATA can move forward with political action. Alberta is set to have a provincial election in May 2023 and Booi said provincial parties will be looking for ‘friends’ as it draws closer. 

At the ATA annual representative assembly in May, the Edmonton Public Teachers, ATA Local 37, passed a motion calling on the provincial ATA to set up a political action program. Their vision is a program geared entirely toward promoting solutions from teachers to the problems they are facing, according to Booi. 

Booi stressed that now is the time to organize. 

“When negotiations started, the government was pleading poverty,” Booi said. “They were saying they couldn’t pay higher salaries or improve classroom conditions.” 

Alberta is now facing a ‘tsunami’ of money that could lead to a surplus in the provincial government’s budget, according to an article published by the CBC.  Energy economist Peter Tertzakian predicted Alberta will receive $24 billion in natural resource royalties in 2022. 

“In the past, the governments in Alberta were facing big deficits but whatever government comes in will have a lot of money to invest in public services,” Booi said. 

Booi said he hopes to see teachers fighting to have their voices heard. He also hopes they push for a government that will compensate teachers fairly and include classroom conditions in contracts. 

It may be more resonant with the public if teachers begin promoting positive change instead of rallying against something, Booi said. Solutions to poor classroom conditions are important to more than just teachers, he added. 

“There is this shared interest in getting things right in the classroom between teachers and parents,” Booi said. “Working conditions for teachers are learning conditions for children.” 

While the contract that was ratified by the ATA is the “absolute minimum” Booi said there is reason for optimism. 

“Better days could well be ahead in Alberta,” Booi said. “You don’t get what you need and you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you fight for. I think teachers will be fighting hard.”

Gabriela Calugay-Casuga

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.” They began writing for Migrante Ottawa’s radio show, Talakayang Bayan, in 2017. Since then, she...