Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about Election of Association Membership
The Government of Alberta has amended the Teaching Profession Act to give central office staff members the right to opt out of Association membership.
1. Why have I been advised that I am eligible to make an election of membership in the Association?
Alberta’s Commission on Learning agreed with proposals from the College of Alberta School Superintendents and the Alberta School Boards Association that central office staff members should have the option of membership in the Association. The Government of Alberta accepted this recommendation and introduced the Teaching Profession Amendment Act in the spring 2004 session of the Legislature. The amendments were proclaimed in July, but could only be made operational by a regulation approved by the Minister. The Teacher Membership Status Election Regulation was signed by Lyle Oberg on 2004 11 22 and filed the next day. It became effective on 2004 12 01.
2. Who is eligible to make an election of membership in the Association?
Section 5(1)(b) and (c) of the Teaching Profession Act outline the two major groups eligible to make an election of membership. The first group consists of teachers who are (1) engaged in carrying out central office administrative functions for the board and (2) not engaged in carrying out teaching functions and (3) designated or described in the Teacher Membership Status Election Regulation. The second group consists of teachers who are (1) designated to an administrative, supervisory or consultative position and (2) excluded from the teachers on whose behalf the Association is bargaining. Teachers who meet the above criteria are identified by the board as teachers eligible to make an election of membership in the Association. Where the individual teacher or the Association disagrees with the board’s identification, the eligibility of the teacher to make a membership election can be adjudicated by the Labour Relations Board.
3. When can the board identify teachers eligible to make an election of membership?
The Teacher Membership Status Election Regulation, which came into effect on 2004 12 01, gives school boards 60 days following the appointment to provide notice to teachers who are eligible to make an election of membership.
4. How do I know if I have been identified as a teacher eligible to make an election of membership?
The board is required to provide a notice to each teacher who has been identified as eligible to make an election of membership. The notice must be on the form prescribed in the regulation (referred to as Form 1). The board is also required to provide a copy of this notice (on the prescribed form) directly to the Association.
5. How long do I have to decide my future membership status?
A teacher identified by a board has 60 days from the date Form 1 was received to provide a written notice to the Association and to the board of the teacher’s election of membership. This notice must be on the form prescribed in the regulation (referred to as Form 2). A teacher who does not comply with this requirement is deemed to retain their current membership status (active membership).
6. If I elect or retain active membership, what services are provided?
Teachers are encouraged to review the Association’s Membership Matters brochure for full particulars. Teachers will receive all benefits of active membership, as they have in the past. This includes legal representation and defence—all applicable union and professional services.
7. If I opt for associate membership, what services are provided?
Teachers are encouraged to review the Association’s Membership Matters brochure for full particulars. Active members who opt for associate membership will not receive legal representation and defence, and the rights of membership will be severely restricted. Associate members will be eligible to hold office and to vote.
8. If I decide not to be a member, are services provided?
9. I am a central office member who is covered by the collective agreement. What happens if I opt for associate or nonmembership? Am I still covered by the collective agreement?
The School Act was amended to provide that a teacher who elects not to retain their active membership in the Association cannot be included in a collective agreement. The effect of choosing associate or nonmembership is to remove oneself from the collective agreement. The teacher would negotiate a personal services contract with their board. Teachers who are covered by the collective agreement retain security of tenure and can appeal an attempt by their board to terminate their contract of employment to the Board of Reference. Should the board fail to prove that the board acted reasonably, given the circumstances, the teacher could be reinstated by the Board of Reference. A teacher not covered by a collective agreement has little employment security beyond their ability to enforce their personal services contract at their own expense. An abrogation of the contract or a decision by the board to terminate the contract would be resolved at civil trial in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. While civil trials do not provide for reinstatement, they may award monetary damages if the board’s actions were unreasonable in the circumstances. The cost of legal assistance equals or exceeds the award.
10. I am a central office member not covered by the collective agreement. What services are provided if I opt to retain my active membership?
The Association will provide all applicable union and professional services, including full legal support and representation. The Association will assist in negotiating your personal services contract, in consultation with our staff and solicitors. We will represent you in matters with your employer. Should your board attempt to terminate your employment, we will take forward your case to the Court of Queen’s Bench, in accordance with the Association’s legal services policy.
11. I am a central office teacher with responsibilities in the area of human resources. Will exercising those responsibilities bring me into conflict with the Code of Professional Conduct, particularly sections 13, 14 and 20 which relate to teachers’ interactions with their colleagues?
No, this should not cause difficulty. Section 23(3) of the Teaching Profession Act indicates that Association discipline processes are not intended to apply to labour relations matters.
12. Does the Code of Professional Conduct still apply to central office staff?
The Code of Professional Conduct applies to all active members of the Association. Central office staff members who choose associate or nonmembership cannot be disciplined by the teaching profession for professional misconduct. However, while their conduct cannot be regulated by the teaching profession, they are still subject to the Practice Review of Teachers Regulation administered by the provincial registrar. The code of conduct embedded in the regulation is substantially similar to the Association's Code of Professional Conduct.
13. I disagree with the board’s conclusion that I am eligible to make an election of membership. What do I do?
Under the regulation, the teacher or the Association can appeal the identification of a teacher by a board. A teacher who believes that the board’s identification is in error should contact the Association for advice and assistance. An appeal can be made to the Labour Relations Board, which is authorized to replace the board’s identification with its own identification.
14. Can my employer encourage me to make an election of nonmembership in the Association?
No. Membership in the Alberta Teachers’ Association is a matter between the individual teacher and the Association. Any effort on the part of the employer to encourage a teacher to elect out of the Association is an unfair labour practice under the Labour Relations Code. The Association will intervene in any such instance and make application to the Labour Relations Board.
15. Can I change my mind once I’ve made an election of membership?
According to section 5.1(2)(b) of the Teaching Profession Act, a teacher’s election "may not, unless otherwise permitted by the Minister, be revoked or amended during the period of time that the teacher remains employed in the circumstances ... in respect of which the election is made." The effect of this section is that a teacher’s membership election is not tied to the specific central office position, it is tied to all central office work. Therefore, a teacher who moves from a consultant position to a supervisor position may have different duties, but the circumstances (ie, central office administration work) remain the same. The wording on Form 1 ("you will have no opportunity to re-elect while you remain in the position you are currently in") is misleading and inconsistent with the statutory provisions.
16. If I elect associate or nonmembership in the Association, am I still covered by the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund?
17. What happens to my membership status if I opt out of Association membership and I am subsequently returned to a classroom teacher or school administrator position?
At the commencement of a teacher’s new duties, the teacher becomes an active member and receives the full range of services provided to active members. However, the Association would not provide any assistance in the transition from nonmembership to active membership. Generally, Alberta collective agreements include no seniority clauses which would otherwise limit the opportunity for central office staff members to return to teaching and school administration positions.
18. Has the Association reviewed the services available to central office administrators?
Yes. In the fall of 2004, the Association established a committee of central office administrators to review the Association’s services for central office administrators. The committee identified the need for more professional support for the difficult work of central office administrators and made a number of recommendations to Provincial Executive Council at its 2004 12 02–03 meeting. The vast majority of recommendations were accepted and have been implemented.
19. What are some of the most important considerations in electing active membership?
From a “union” perspective, there are some very important considerations. If the teacher is currently covered by the collective agreement, a decision to opt out of Association membership (or to choose associate membership) would mean that the teacher could no longer be covered by the collective agreement. The School Act was amended to restrict access to the Board of Reference. Teachers who are not covered by the collective agreement cannot use the Board of Reference to deal with their employment disputes and, as a result, do not enjoy security of tenure. From a “professional” perspective, the Code of Professional Conduct continues to regulate the professional lives of teachers. In addition, the teacher remains eligible to attend teachers’ conventions and for membership in specialist councils and the Association’s other professional services.
20. What steps will the Association take to confirm that a teacher is eligible to make an election?
The Association is required to act upon the election of a member, but the Association will also take steps to ensure that the teacher was properly identified by the board. The Association will ask boards to provide a copy of the job description of each teacher identified as eligible for an election of membership. For teachers identified under section 5(1)(b), the Association will also seek a declaration that the central office position is a permanent one and that the duties the teacher is performing are central office administrative functions and do not involve teaching functions. For teachers identified under section 5(1)(c), the Association will also seek confirmation that the teacher is designated to an administrative, supervisory or consultative position and that they are excluded from the collective agreement.