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Association pursues workload grievances

January 12, 2016 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Unresolved workload issues have prompted a number of ATA locals to file formal grievances.

Several Alberta Teachers’ Association locals have filed grievances over teacher workload because they feel their respective school jurisdictions haven’t made their best efforts to reduce assigned tasks as required by the province’s 2013 legislated framework.

While teachers have done their best to address workload issues within the processes laid out in the framework, some school jurisdictions haven’t done their part, said Sandra Johnston, co-­ordinator of the Association’s Teacher Welfare program area, which oversees bargaining and the fulfilment of collective agreements.

“Many teachers have seen their workload increase during the time of the framework,” Johnston said.

To date, nearly two dozen locals have formally requested that their school boards provide information to demonstrate their best efforts in reducing unnecessary assigned tasks. Of those locals, eight have taken the process a step further by filing official grievances.

The legislated framework, which formed the basis for teachers’ collective agreements throughout the province, outlined that workload reviews take place on three levels: an overall review by Alberta Education, an internal jurisdiction review (C2 committee) and a third-party study.

“Guided by the outcomes of the internal reviews and the third party study on teachers’ workload, School Jurisdictions and Government will make their best efforts to reduce Alberta Education and School Jurisdiction initiated tasks teachers currently perform over the term of this Agreement,” the ministerial order states.

Teachers who volunteered to serve on C2 committees have worked very hard and gave the process time to work, but it’s clear that isn’t happening in some jurisdictions, hence the grievances proceeding now, toward the tail end of the framework’s four-year term, Johnston said.

“Teachers wanted to give [school boards] time and the ability to use their best efforts,” she said.

Association president Mark Ramsankar described workload reduction efforts as “all over the map.”

“Some boards have made honest efforts to reduce workload while others have displayed gamesmanship by taking a check-box approach with no meaningful change,” he said.

This situation, combined with multiple delays to the results of the independent study on teacher workload, has teachers frustrated and disappointed with the whole process, he added.

“Some school boards have failed miserably and I believe the government needs to hold them accountable,” ­Ramsankar said.

Legal strategy

The first hurdle in the grievance process will be to convince an arbitrator that the legislated framework and ministerial order constitute part of the collective agreements between the ATA and school boards, Johnston said. The ATA’s argument is that the ministerial order is a piece of employment-related legislation, and thus within an arbitrator’s jurisdiction.

“Of course, the school boards are arguing that the ministerial order is outside the collective agreement and not arbitrable,” Johnston said.

She’s hoping that a prehearing into the jurisdictional issue occurs sometime in January. If that decision comes down in favour of the Association’s position, the ATA will proceed to arbitration with all the grievances. If that decision goes against the Association’s position, the ATA will simply take its fight to the courts.

“It is disappointing that we have been put in this position; however, the Association will continue to pursue all avenues open to us to support our members,” Ramsankar said.

With collective agreements throughout the province due to expire on Aug. 31, 2016, this grievance process will play out while bargaining for the next agreement is underway. This timeline means that any victories experienced will be moral ones, but it also lends a strategic element to the grievance process, Johnston said, as a legal ruling that some school jurisdictions failed to follow a ministerial order would provide the Association with ammunition for the next round of bargaining.

The ministerial order imposed a cap of 907 instruction hours, which has generated a backlash in some jurisdictions.

“Superintendents are engaging, in some places, in what we’re calling revenge scheduling,” Johnston said. “They were incensed that there was a cap of 907 hours on instruction, so they’ve loaded up the days of the calendar.”

This has led to teachers in some jurisdictions working up to 26 days’ worth of nonassigned tasks. This will be an area of focus in the upcoming bargaining round, Johnston said. ❚

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