EDMONTON — The Alberta government is bringing in legislation to implement a new labour deal for its 40,000 teachers.
Education Minister Jeff Johnson says the move is necessary given that a majority of teachers and school boards have ratified the framework deal and that legislation is the only way to overcome the opposition of a few holdouts.
“I’m doing what I have to do to get a deal across the finish line,” Johnson told reporters Monday.
“The alternative is to let the deal collapse because as of tonight the deal fails if we don’t have everybody on board, and we don’t have everybody on board.”
He said it didn’t make sense to take the issue back to all boards and union locals rather than push through one that currently has 97 per cent support.
“It’s time that we put the students first and make sure we’ve got that stability and that we don’t put parents and those committees through any kind of potential disruption to classrooms,” he said.
Bill 26, the Assurance for Students Act, is to be introduced in the legislature Tuesday.
It will implement the provisions of a deal reached March 15 by the province and the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
The deal needed unanimous consent from the 62 boards and union locals by Monday to take effect.
The board in Stettler had also not agreed to it by late Monday afternoon.
Two union locals, in St. Albert and Elk Island, also declined to accept it.
Earlier Monday, the Calgary Board of Education, representing students in the public system, voted for the second time to reject the deal.
The board is Alberta’s largest, with 108,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
Board members have said they are unhappy with the contract because of possible unforeseen cash consequences, such as the cost of setting up boards to hear complaints from teachers on workload issues.
Other boards, even those that approved the pact, have complained the deal was made without the input from their umbrella organization, the Alberta School Boards Association.
Johnson said regardless of the concerns, it doesn’t make sense to allow one school board to have the power to derail a provincewide bargaining deal.
“You’ve got a situation where you’ve got seven trustees that can make the decision for 600,000 students.”
“It’s a structure that’s not appropriate and I’m committed to fixing it.”
The deal would see teacher wages frozen for the first three years, then go up two per cent in the final year of 2015-16. There would be a lump-sum cash bonus equivalent to one per cent of salary worth $40 million.
A teacher at the top end of the salary grid currently makes $99,000 a year.
Teaching hours would be frozen for three years.
The deal would also see the province review teacher workload issues and would push school boards to make sure they moved closer to the 907 hours of provincially mandated instruction per teacher per year.
NDP critic David Eggen said the rejection was a missed opportunity for Johnson to go back to the drawing board and get the deal right.
“(The deal) is effectively a 10 per cent cut for teachers over three years,” said Eggen.
“It goes against our best judgment to invest in education.”
Wildrose critic Bruce McAllister said Johnson is reaping what he has sown by not including the school boards in negotiations.
“The minister bypassed them initially and he’s dealing with the backlash of it now,” said McAllister.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman applauded Calgary’s public school board for taking a stand.
“The Calgary Board of Education has sent a clear message: they’re not receiving the funds required to provide education to the children of Calgary,” said Sherman.
Alberta’s teachers have been without a contract since the last one expired last August.
School boards used to negotiate individually with local teacher bargaining units, but that changed when then-premier Ed Stelmach’s government negotiated a provincewide deal in 2007.