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ATA gears up for bi-level collective bargaining

January 26, 2016 Shelley Svidal, ATA News Staff

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has established the Central Table Bargaining Committee to oversee negotiations at the central table under the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act.

“Provincial Executive Council has taken important steps to make sure that teachers will be democratically represented in central table bargaining and have a direct say in approving a settlement,” said ATA President Mark Ramsankar.

The act, which came into force Jan. 1, establishes a provincewide, bi-level collective bargaining model for teachers, with central matters negotiated at a central table and local matters negotiated at local tables. The act defines a central matter as one that could result in a reasonably significant impact on expenditures for one or more employers or that involves issues common to most of the parties to the collective agreements that can be addressed more appropriately in central bargaining than in local bargaining.

Identifying which matters fall into which category remains to be negotiated with the newly-formed Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association, which comprises government and school board representatives.

At its meeting on Jan. 15, Provincial Executive Council established the Central Table Bargaining Committee to represent the Association in negotiating the list of central and local matters and concluding a central table memorandum of agreement. The committee will also determine who represents the Association at the central table and any side tables, direct communications to members relating to central table matters and discussions, and oversee ratification of a memorandum of agreement at the central table.

The relationship between the Central Table Bargaining Committee and Provincial Executive Council mirrors the relationship between the local negotiating subcommittees and the local economic policy committees. Just as the local economic policy committee cannot veto a memorandum of agreement achieved by the local negotiating subcommittee, so Provincial Executive Council cannot veto a memorandum of agreement achieved by the Central Table Bargaining Committee. Both the local economic policy committee and Provincial Executive Council can recommend only that members accept or reject a memorandum.

Council determined that the ratification vote on a memorandum of agreement on central terms would be conducted through the same online voting process that has been developed for Association general elections and byelections. The threshold for ratification is set at 50 per cent plus one of all members who cast electronic votes. Prior to the vote, information would be provided to members at regional meetings, online and through Association publications.

If bargaining breaks down at the central table, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act allows the parties to access the processes set out in the Labour Relations Code, including mediation, strike and lockout.

In accordance with its fiduciary responsibilities, Council determined that the voting members of the Central Table Bargaining Committee will consist of five Council members (all of whom are active members in a bargaining unit and not in receipt of an Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund pension), with one of those members designated as chair. Nonvoting members of the committee include the executive secretary (or designee), the coordinator of Teacher Welfare, members of executive staff named by the executive secretary, and Association legal counsel and others as required.

President Mark Ramsankar is a voting member of the committee by virtue of office, although it is anticipated that he will participate only at critical junctures in negotiations.

At its meeting, Council elected five members to the Central Table Bargaining Committee: Vice-President Greg Jeffery, Edmonton McMurray District Representative Darrin Bauer, Calgary City District Representative Jenny Regal, South West District Representative Jason Schilling, and North West District Representative Lori Szmul. Council then elected Jeffery to serve as chair.

Negotiations to determine which matters will be bargained centrally and locally must begin between March 1 and April 1. If the negotiations have not concluded within 60 days, either the Association or the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association may ask the minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour to refer the question to an arbitration board. Once the matters have been settled, notice to commence central bargaining must be served between 15 and 30 days, and notice to commence local bargaining must be served within 60 days of the ratification or settlement of central table matters.

“While we’ve done some good work here, we are under no illusions — the heavy lifting remains to be done, and we will need every member to do his or her part,” Ramsankar said. ❚

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