A photo of former Alberta Teachers Association president Larry Booi, one of the signatories to an open letter calling on Alberta teachers to reject a mediator’s recommended settlement of agreement.
Former Alberta Teachers Association president Larry Booi, one of the signatories to an open letter calling on Alberta teachers to reject a mediator’s recommended settlement of agreement. Credit: David J. Climenhaga

Three former presidents of the ATA (Alberta Teachers Association) have written a strongly worded open letter to Alberta public, Catholic and francophone schoolteachers throughout the province urging them to reject an “unacceptable” recommended settlement by a mediator in their current round of contract negotiations.

“The mediator’s proposed settlement entirely fails to address teachers’ great frustrations with unacceptable classroom conditions, dismisses your legitimate concerns with teacher compensation and locks teachers into a contract for over two more years at a time of great political and economic volatility,” said the letter signed by Carol Henderson, ATA President from 2009 to 2013, Frank Bruseker, president from 2003 to 2009, and Larry Booi, president from 1999 to 2003.

The letter, pointedly made public on social media Friday, May 19, immediately before the ATA’s first in-person annual meeting in three years was scheduled to begin in Calgary the next morning, may not be unprecedented in the annals of labour relations, but it is certainly unusual. 

The ATA Bargaining Committee received the mediator’s recommendation for a province-wide collective agreement on May 6, and ATA President Jason Schilling promised members in a statement “we will not be discussing anything else publicly until after teachers have had a chance to vote on the recommendation.”

However, the ATA confirmed yesterday it has recommended that members ratify the collective agreement. 

So this public assessment by three well-known former leaders certainly doesn’t appear to give high marks to the ATA’s current leadership or the work of its bargaining committee. 

That in turn suggests that the development predicted in this space in early April after Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange introduced legislation stripping the ATA of its power to discipline teachers and replacing it with a politicized process run by a government-appointed commissioner is starting to take place.

It was inevitable that LaGrange’s bill would end the collegial relationship a succession of Conservative governments have enjoyed with the ATA and result in a much more adversarial focus on bargaining and contract enforcement by Alberta’s teachers’ union. 

The ATA complained at the time that Bill 15, the Education (Reforming Teacher Profession Discipline) Amendment Act, 2022, was a “blatant grab for power” and predicted it would lead to the “notoriously bad labour relations” seen in British Columbia, the only other province to use the teacher discipline procedure set out in the law. 

Unsurprisingly, though, on May 4 the UCP majority in the Alberta Legislature passed the bill anyway, setting the stage for union militancy and labour strife that will no doubt bedevil future Alberta governments, some of them run by Conservatives. 

The letter from the three former presidents argued voting for the mediator’s recommendation will trap teachers at pay rates well behind compounded inflation for more than two years after they received no pay increases during the terms of their two previous collective agreements. “Instead of offering improvements, the settlement would have teachers vote for their continued financial decline,” the letter said. 

This would happen “precisely when Alberta’s government is receiving dramatic increases in revenue due to huge increases in energy prices.”

So, the three former presidents asked: “Why agree to falling further behind when the government is clearly riding the energy revenue roller coaster to among the highest levels ever? Why tie our own hands when there is a clear potential for substantial gains over the next two years?”

The letter says the same arguments apply to dealing with deteriorating classroom conditions. “We were told that the government was broke and couldn’t address the concerns of teachers and parents about not being able to meet children’s learning needs. Well, they are no longer broke …”

The letter also addressed other legislative changes in Bill 15 and Bill 85 that, for example, will pass the cost of required police checks to school boards, which will use funds intended for education, and also require teachers to pay for an unfair disciplinary process they don’t trust. 

“This government is obviously trying to once again bully teachers into accepting a wholly inadequate contract, after treating them with contempt over pension issues, curriculum matters, discipline practices in the profession, supports for learning, and virtually every other issue,” the letter states.

“It’s the way they have tried to treat all public services,” the three former presidents wrote. “Other organizations have fought back effectively, and the time has come for teachers to stand up and stand together by defeating this unworthy proposal.”

The ATA’s negotiations are conducted with a group representing school boards called the Teachers Employer Bargaining Association. Bargaining at a central table focuses on monetary issues and matters affecting all teachers in the province. 

After that, individual school boards bargain with local ATA representatives on local matters. At the conclusion of those negotiations, the items in the provincial agreement are merged with the local agreement to form a completed collective agreement.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the AlbertaPolitics.ca blog, is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald....