In the News June 15
Workers Defend Rights in Face of Stepped-Up Attacks
Alberta Teachers Look for a Way Forward for Public Education
Alberta teachers voted reluctantly in favour of a new collective agreement on June 9. Fifty-one per cent of teachers accepted the mediator’s recommendation for a contract retroactive to September 2020, which will be in force until August 31, 2023.
Without question, the deal would have been soundly rejected if not for the blackmail of the United Conservative Party government. At Alberta Teachers’ Association member information meetings, teachers learned of a plan whereby if the deal was rejected, some school boards would lock teachers out over the summer and withhold their pay for days already worked. Teachers typically work from September to June, but a portion of pay is held until the summer months. To deny pay for days already worked would be highly illegal. Nevertheless, this gave many teachers pause. Fearing they would have to individually fight for their pay, some accepted the agreement under duress.
The agreement provides for nominal wage increases of 1.75 per cent and 2 per cent in September 2022 and 2023 respectively. This continues the assault on teachers and education workers and the refusal to fund the public education system. The Alberta consumer price index rose by 6.3 per cent from April 2021 to April 2022, which means that the 2022 nominal increase is actually a cut of 4.55 per cent for that year. Teachers have received zero wage increases in all years from 2012 to 2019, with the exception of a two per cent increase in 2015, while the Alberta consumer price index increased by 20 per cent from 2012 to 2022, leaving teachers with an 18 per cent wage cut over the last ten years.
The agreement does not address the longstanding concerns of teachers for measures to limit class size and address increasing complexity of classes, with growing numbers of students with special needs and English language learners. In fact, there is no guarantee that the government will increase education funding to cover paying teachers. A two per cent increase in salary can easily lead to a two per cent increase in class sizes, with deteriorating conditions for students and increasing workloads for teachers in the form of more marking, more individualized needs to address and more communication with parents.
The vote has revealed that teachers are more ready than they have been since 2002 — when 21,000 Alberta teachers were on strike, some for close to a month — to take action to defend their working conditions, students’ learning conditions, and public education as a whole. More teachers voted than at any time in recent history, and their vote showed determination to find a way forward in the face of a government which is systematically attempting to wreck public education.
What’s next? September brings a new curriculum in Language Arts (K-3), Math (K-3), and Health and Wellness (K-6). Teachers, along with parents, professors of education, and other concerned Albertans have been speaking up loudly, raising their concerns about this curriculum since it was released a year ago. The opposition has been such that government was forced to take a step back, delaying implementation of a new curriculum in most subjects.
Teachers are still considering the implications of Bill 15, through which the government has asserted control over teacher discipline, which reverses the century old arrangements through which the Alberta Teachers’ Association has been responsible for defending the public interest by ensuring that standards for professional conduct and competence are upheld. In its place, the government wishes to assert ministerial dictate which will favour the private interests they serve.
Teachers know instinctively that they can’t afford to wait and see what will happen with the next election or the next collective agreement. How to organize to defend their rights and the right of students to education is never immediately apparent. It is through discussion and working things out together that teachers, and all working people, have always found solutions. Experience tells us it is crucial to develop that discussion, carry out actions with analysis, and then sum up and see where to go next. Consoling ourselves that we will fight “next time” will not do. It can be done! Let’s discuss.
Workers’ Forum, posted June 15, 2022.