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Embrace collaboration, expert urges

March 22, 2016 Shelley Svidal, ATA News Staff Writer

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) should approach the upcoming round of collective bargaining by embracing the role of collaborative, creative and trusted partner.

That’s what keynote speaker Kathleen Monk told the approximately 100 delegates assembled for the ATA’s Political Engagement Seminar on March 11.

Monk, a strategic communications and public affairs consultant who served as founding executive director of the Broadbent Institute, identified the economy as one of the major influences affecting policy in Alberta. Because the province is experiencing the worst economic slowdown in a long time, the government has to focus almost exclusively on creating jobs, attracting investment and diversifying the economy.

“The government plan is to be exclusively focused on the main course,” she said. “The stakeholders like you and like other groups in the province really need to be thinking about how they can round out the meal ... What sides, what appetizers, what desserts, what else can you bring to the table?”

She urged teachers to think about non-monetary, short-term gains, such as classroom conditions, professional development, curriculum and work-life balance.

“Politically, this approach will be beneficial to your members and significantly valuable to the government now and in the long term. You can achieve much, both political power and goodwill in this province, by mobilizing your members and by coming to the bargaining table with these winning kinds of ideas — winning ideas that work for teachers, that work for your communities, that work for government. We’re talking a win-win-win scenario.”

Monk pointed out that the provincial budget released in March 2015 by the Jim Prentice government explicitly stated that school boards would not be funded for projected enrolment growth of 1.9 per cent. In contrast, the Rachel Notley government has hired 740 teachers, protected another 800 teachers and invested $104 million in education, she said. The government also routinely emphasizes that it is not going to restore the price of oil by underfunding the education and health-care systems and laying off teachers and nurses.

Monk also pointed out that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s recent call for a 10 per cent rollback in teachers’ salaries has been gaining a lot of traction.

“The public right now ... has no appetite for salary increases, and even if it did, the government doesn’t have the wiggle room to provide them,” she said.

She urged teachers to embrace the role of collaborative, creative and trusted partner both to strengthen negotiations and to strengthen their own brand.

“Teachers have very high brand recognition and your profession is highly regarded. But as I mentioned off the top, I’m the daughter of two teachers from Ontario ... so I watched my parents go through much labour unrest, and throughout that process, teachers in Ontario took a major hit to their brand, and frankly they still suffer today.”

One way to embrace a collaborative role is through effective communication. This is important because the voices that government hears are the ones that shape the agenda.

“When you’re communicating with government, everything is broadcast on WII FM — what’s in it for me?”

Monk identified politics as a second major influence on policy. Noting that the next provincial election is only 38 months away, she suggested that it is important for progressive and like-minded organizations to keep progressive issues at the forefront to ensure that progressives continue to frame the dialogue in Alberta.

Progressives should champion causes that will better the province and make it fairer for everyone, Monk said. She suggested that teachers consider showing support for such issues as the minimum wage or the payday loan legislation the government plans to introduce.

“Teachers need to be a true ally and stand with this government shoulder to shoulder on these issues,” she said.

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