Teachers employed by Horizon School Division No. 67 have voted 87 per cent in favour of authorizing the Alberta Teachers’ Association to request a government-supervised strike vote.
The teachers have been working for nearly two years without a finalized collective agreement. Horizon Division is one of only 15 school boards in the province that have not reached a local settlement for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 school years.
“Our division was the second last to settle during the last round of negotiations, and that required mediation. This time, mediation has failed because the board is being rigid and unreasonable in its demands. While teachers are trying to negotiate, the employer is stalling. Horizon teachers are disappointed that they are being treated without consideration in light of all that is going on with the pandemic. There’s enough stress right now without having to contend with an employer who doesn’t respect you,” said Walter Plumtree, President, ATA Horizon Local No. 4.
At a general meeting held August 24, the teachers reviewed the last offer proposed by the division, which attempted to strip their collective agreement of several important measures related to leaves and substitute teachers.
“The division is attacking leaves and substitute teachers, both of which are critical for keeping schools open and safe during the COVID pandemic. The regressive changes proposed by the board will effectively drive substitutes to work for other neighbouring school divisions. The availability of qualified substitute teachers in Horizon will be a critical issue in the year ahead,” added Plumtree.
Following a meeting with the two sides on June 25, a government-appointed mediator concluded that they were too far apart to reach a mediated settlement and chose to “write out” of the process.
This left the parties free to reach an agreement on their own or, following a two-week cooling off period, begin the process of moving toward a strike or lockout. Following the Aug. 24 authorization vote, Horizon teachers can now apply to hold a government-supervised strike vote at any time.
If a strike mandate is approved, teachers could legally strike after providing 48 hours’ notice to the employer.
“Teachers want to be in schools this fall; they miss their students and they miss their classrooms. It is not too late for Horizon to save the start of the school year. We are prepared to negotiate if the board is willing to engage in meaningful discussions—a work stoppage is a last resort,” continued Plumtree.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association is the professional association of teachers in Alberta and acts as the bargaining agent for all teachers employed in public, separate and francophone school divisions. Based in Taber, Horizon School Division No. 67 employs approximately 220 full and part-time teachers in public and Hutterian Brethren schools throughout southeastern Alberta, including Taber, Grassy Lake, Barnwell, Enchant, Milk River, Hays, Vauxhall, Lomond and Warner.