May 17th, 2024

Palliser school division averts strike

By Lethbridge Herald on April 13, 2024.

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman

After a year of negotiations between the Palliser School Division and its teachers, an agreement has been reached and a strike averted. 

Palliser was the last of 61 school divisions to reach agreement for the current term of bargaining, which extends back to September 2020.

Collective bargaining for teachers in Alberta is a two-phase process where matters of significant cost and broad impact are negotiated at a central table, followed by local negotiations between individual school divisions and Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) bargaining units on other more locally specific matters.

Natalie Townshend, Palliser ATA local president told the Herald the association is relieved that an agreement could be concluded without interruption to schools, but the school division has some work to do to repair relations with its teachers. 

“We were looking for consideration for specific groups like our substitute teachers and our colony teachers because they are not currently receiving the same consideration in Palliser as they do in other divisions at this time,” said Townshend.   

She said this has made it difficult to find substitute teachers as they are getting better deals somewhere else. 

“We compete with several other school divisions for subs. Also, colony teachers were significantly below the other school divisions around us,” said Townshend. “It makes it hard to attract and retain teachers when the working condition in our school division aren’t as good as the working conditions in other ones that we’re competing with.”  

The Palliser School Division employs approximately 700 contracted and substitute teachers in public schools in Coalhurst, Coaldale, Picture Butte, Vulcan and surrounding areas, as well as 17 Hutterian colony schools and 10 alternative schools in Calgary.

Townshend said they sent their original proposal to the school board in April 2023, and just before the agreement was achieved that have spent nine days at the bargaining table. 

“Typically bargaining doesn’t take that long, but we had a difficult time even getting the Palliser board to come and sit down at the table. It would have been nice to just have a conversation about the things that we saw as priorities and the things that they saw as priorities, but there was never an opportunity for whatever reason,” said Townshend. 

She said at the end a mediator was needed and it was because of the mediator’s recommendations that they were able to reach an agreement and at a virtual meeting held Monday evening, teachers voted 64 per cent in favour of the recommendations, avoiding the need for a strike.

“It wasn’t an overwhelming sort of appreciation or approval, but it was enough so that we can now move forward into this next round of collective bargaining,” said Townshend. 

She said previously teachers have voted 92 per cent in favour of taking a strike vote if it came down to it, if the board was not willing to shift on any of the items they were proposing. 

“We’re very thankful they were able to achieve an agreement without having to take that step as teachers’ priorities are always their students and their classroom,” said Townshend. 

She said teachers want to be working, they want to be in their classrooms but their working conditions need to be worked on. 

“Because teachers working conditions equate to students learning conditions,” said Townshend. 

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