More students, less money is a recipe for trouble
Edmonton –A coalition of school employees is warning Albertans that the quality of our public education system is at risk. Frontline education workers opened the first day of the new legislative session by speaking out on their concerns. Support staff from a number of school board regions including Edmonton Public, Edmonton Catholic and Calgary Public gathered in the legislature to highlight the need for increased funding.
On behalf of their students, a province-wide coalition of staff working in primary education is calling on government to restore 14.5 million that was cut from Alberta’s school budgets. Kids Not Cuts Alberta says ongoing education cuts are undermining the ability of schools to provide safe, productive learning environments for Alberta’s K-12 Students.
“Premier Redford should be paying close attention to what this coalition is saying. These are facility operators, special needs teaching assistants, library technicians, and custodial staff that are at the front lines of making sure our K-12 schools work. They have an insider perspective on what needless cuts to school board budgets do to a student’s ability to learn and excel,” Co-Chair of the 10,000-member coalition Don Boucher said.
The coalition notes that according to the Government’s own calculations student populations are projected to increase in the coming years, but budget cuts mean that schools are getting cleaned less often, that students with special needs are getting less attention, libraries have fewer staff to keep them running, and the lack of support staff means teachers can’t focus on delivering the curriculum.
“Many of us are simply fed up with what we see happening in our schools,” CUPE 30 President Mike Scott said. “It’s a shame that in one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in North America, we can’t seem to make funding our children’s schools a priority. We have 11,000 more students in our system this year alone. The government’s 14.5 million in cuts don’t make sense. We must restore these shameful cuts and ensure adequate funding for next year.”
“The legislature is back in session and planning for Budget 2014 is underway,” Boucher said. “Alberta’s students and parents cannot afford to have a repeat of last year’s budget catastrophe. Parents deserve to know their kids are in a safe, clean environment. Students deserve to have the resources they need to learn.”
Kids Not Cuts Alberta is a group of employees who have taken a stand for Alberta's kids through participation in their unions – the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Unifor. Students, parent groups, our amazing teacher colleagues, as well as everyday Albertans are allies in our coalition.
The Coalition was joined by New Democrat Education critic Deron Bilous. “This PC government can’t be trusted to stand up for kids or our public schools,” said Bilous. “They promised long-term, stable and predictable funding and then broke their promise, instead delivering cutbacks that mean that too many kids are in overcrowded classrooms without the staff supports they need.”
Kids Not Cuts Fact Sheet: Facts on Growing Schools and Decreasing Funding-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell) or via e-mail email@example.com
Legislating contract undermines collective bargaining
Edmonton – Legislation to impose a four-year contract on teachers is bad news for workers all over Alberta says the province's largest labour organization.
School boards throughout the province had been given an arbitrary deadline of 3 p.m. yesterday to ratify a deal that had been struck between the province and the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), the union that represents the 40,000 teachers in the province. When two bargaining units and several school boards rejected the deal, the government responded with legislation that would force them to take the pay freeze.
"By bringing forward this legislation, they're basically saying that it didn't matter what any of those union locals and school boards said or did," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. "Teachers basically didn't have a choice in whether or not to accept this contract – either they accepted it, or they would have it forced on them."
On Monday, the government announced it was tabling legislation based on a deal that had been reached between the Alberta Teachers' Association and the province. Although the deal had been ratified by 60 of Alberta's 62 school boards, one of the hold-outs was the province's largest board, the Calgary Board of Education.
"This government is taking a top-down, full-throttle, my-way-or-the-highway approach to their dealings with workers," McGowan said. "This is the same bullying approach they've taken with prison workers, and the same bullying approach they're taking with post-secondary education."
The legislation imposes a wage freeze for the first three years of the contract, and a two per cent raise in the fourth year. The legislation also includes provisions that will attempt to tackle excessive teacher hours and classroom conditions.
"Legislating the contract shows that the Redford government wasn't negotiating in good faith in the first place," McGowan said. "This decision has undermined their ability to be taken seriously at the bargaining table. Who is going to trust that they won't just resort to bargaining by fiat?"
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 2013: Join us at the AFL's 9th Biennial Convention, Unions Stand up for Majority of Albertans, STRIKE! The Musical, Solidarity with Post-Secondary Education
Unions Stand Up for Majority of Albertans
In the lead up to Alberta’s 2013 budget, Alberta’s public sector unions worked together to advance the interests of the majority of Albertans.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Alberta Teachers’ Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, United Nurses of Alberta and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta presented a united front against austerity policies and draconian cuts.
Polling, conducted by Environics in advance of the provincial budget showed that more than 70 per cent of Albertans reject public service cuts. More than three quarters of those polled agreed that there should be an increase on taxes for wealthy Albertans and for corporations. The majority of Albertans believe that the province should be investing more in health care, education and other services.
“Albertans aren’t as conservative as Alison Redford seems to believe,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “She needs to listen better. Not to the radical tea party Tories, but to the majority of Albertans who are quietly progressive, and who want this province to be healthy and prosperous.”
STRIKE! The Musical
The Alberta Federation of Labour is proud to be bringing STRIKE! The Musical to Edmonton for its Alberta premiere.
This award-winning theatrical production, which tells the story of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, will be at the Timms Centre for the Performing Arts April 24 – April 28.
“When I saw Strike! three years ago in Winnipeg, I knew we needed to bring it to Alberta,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “The 100th anniversary of the AFL was the perfect opportunity to organize this production. It’s an important story about the history of Canadian labour, and it’s one that inspires pride in the activism and work that our member unions do.”
For more information or to order tickets, please visit www.strikemusical.com
Solidarity with Post-Secondary Education
More than 500 students, workers, educators and activists marched on the legislature on March 15.
The rally, which was organized by the Coalition for Action on Post-Secondary Education, was protesting the massive cuts the Alberta Government imposed on universities and colleges throughout the province. The University of Alberta faces a 7.2 per cent cut.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan spoke at the rally, noting that the province’s economy depends on having a quality education system.
Join us at the AFL’s 9th Biennial Convention
More than 500 labour activists, leaders and delegates will gather at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton from April 25 – 28 for the Alberta Federation of Labour’s 9th Biennial Convention.
The convention, which has the theme “Unions Stand on Guard for Thee,” will examine how the labour movement has helped create, and protect the prosperous, inclusive society of which Canadians are rightfully proud.
Coming from all corners of Alberta, delegates will celebrate the achievements of unions, hear from dozens of speakers, and help chart the direction of our further growth.
Registration starts Wednesday, April 24 and continues on Thursday, April 25.
2013 AFL Convention runs Thursday, April 25, 2013 - Sunday, April 28, 2013.
Convention Committees meet Wednesday, April 24.
AFL Council meets Tuesday, April 23.
Convention venue is the Shaw Conference Centre
Convention hotel is the Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe
Location: Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton
Contact: Maureen Werlin at email@example.com or 780-483-3021
April 28 – International Day of Mourning for Dead and Injured Workers
May 1 – May Day March
May 3 – Deadline to register for Summer Labour School
June 14 - Deadline to register AFL Kids Camp
Did you know ...
After production and development costs are factored in, Alberta only collects 54 per cent of the the excess profit from heavy oil production. By comparison, Norway collects 80 per cent, Russia collects 73 per cent and Angola collects 71 per cent.
- Once ravaged by debt and war, higher oil royalties have helped Angola turn a budget deficit of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2009 into a surplus of 12 per cent of GDP in 2012.
- Alberta has the highest pay gap in Canada. Alberta women working full year and full time earn a median 68 per cent of what men earn. The pay gap is reduced for women in unions – to about 85 per cent of what men earn.
- According to Environics polling conducted in February, 77 per cent of Albertans support increased taxes on corporations and those making more than $200,000.
EDMONTON - The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an Alberta law that forbids teachers and other school employees from seeking election or serving as school board trustees.
In an 8-1 ruling Friday, the country's top court found the provincial legislation does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It dismissed an appeal from four Alberta teachers -- three of whom were serving on school boards and a fourth who wanted to seek election -- and the Alberta Teachers' Association.
One of the teachers, Ron Baier of Camrose, called the ruling ridiculous and an infringement of his right to serve as a Catholic trustee.
Baier is principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Waskatenau, part of the Lakeland Catholic School Division. For 15 years, he has been a trustee with Elk Island Catholic Separate Regional Division.
"This is a travesty of justice -- it's absurd, it's asinine, it's unbelievable," Baier said. "How can we stand for something like this?"
Another of the four, Liam McNiff of Sylvan Lake, said the ruling effectively ends his trusteeship with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.
McNiff, who teaches at Lacombe Composite High School in the Wolf Creek School Division, said he is disheartened by the ruling and won't seek a third term in the Oct. 15 school board elections.
"I'm disappointed because I would like to continue out the term and, in fact, I was planning to run for the next one," McNiff said.
"Both of those options are now out, at the moment, if I continue on as a teacher. My option now, if I want to run, is I can ask for leave from the board to run in September, and if elected then I would have to resign (from teaching) in October. It's not a feasible option at this point in time."
ATA president Frank Bruseker slammed the ruling, which he said robs teachers of a vital avenue of political activity.
"What it says is if you're a teacher, it's simply not financially worthwhile to give up being a teacher to go and be a trustee because trustee salaries are just not comparable," Bruseker said. The ATA will continue to lobby the government to change what it sees as "oppressive legislation," he said.
The case focused on amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act passed by the legislature in 2002 after a provincewide teachers strike.
The changes deny teachers and other school board employees the right to run for school board trustee in districts other than those in which they work. Under the amendments, any employee who is elected as a trustee in any school jurisdiction is deemed to have resigned from his or her employment.
Other Alberta legislation, which wasn't at issue before the Supreme Court, already prevents teachers and other school employees from running for office as trustees in the districts in which they work.
The amendments in question began as Bill 205, a private member's bill proposed by then St. Albert Conservative MLA Mary O'Neill, who argued the changes were needed to avoid conflicts of interest on budgets and other financial issues.
Four teachers -- Baier, McNiff, George Ollenberger and Evelyn Keith -- successfully challenged the legislation. At the time, Baier, Ollenberger and McNiff were trustees and Keith was planning a run for office.
The Alberta government won on appeal, after which the teachers appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the legislation violated their equality rights and interfered with their fundamental right to freedom of expression.
In delivering the Supreme Court's reasons for judgment, Justice Marshall Rothstein noted that the charter protects voting and candidacy rights, but only in relation to the House of Commons and provincial legislatures.
It is not up to the Supreme Court "to create constitutional rights in respect of a third order of government where the words of the Constitution, read in context, do not do so," he said.
Rothstein also said the teachers did not establish that excluding them from being trustees interferes with their ability to express themselves on matters relating to the education system.
The amendments "may deprive them of one particular means of expression," but "school employees may express themselves in many ways other than through running for election as, and serving as, a school trustee," Rothstein said.
He also rejected the teachers' argument that the legislation infringed on their right to equal protection and equal benefit under the law. Section 15 of the charter doesn't protect teachers or other school employees against discrimination based on their occupational status, Rothstein said.
Four judges agreed with Rothstein, while three others dismissed the appeal for different legal reasons. In a lone dissenting opinion, Justice Morris Fish held that seeking and holding office as a school trustee is a "uniquely effective" means for a person to express views on education policy. Fish found the legislation violates the charter right to freedom of expression.
"It is cold comfort indeed for school employees, who are barred from themselves serving as trustees, to be told that they nonetheless remain free to talk to those who can, or to write letters to their local newspapers," Fish said.
The Alberta Federation of Labour had intervener status in the case. President Gil McGowan said Friday the legislation at issue wasn't ever necessary.
"Our position is that effective measures to deal with conflict of interest were already in place," McGowan said.
"From our perspective, the changes were nothing more than a mean-spirited attempt at payback (for the teachers strike.) The changes were aimed at teachers but they ended up affecting all school-board workers, and they were clearly intended to stop those workers from having the ability to participate in the electoral process and flex their democratic muscles."
Alberta Education Minister Ron Liepert wasn't available for comment. But spokeswoman Shawna Cass maintained the position that the amendments were needed to reduce instances of school trustees falling into conflicts of interest.
"Having a full board consider important issues promotes good decision-making, and is in the best interests of all Albertans," Cass said.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the teachers of this province and the ATA to ensure that Albertans enjoy the best possible school system."
Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat Jun 30 2007
Byline: David Howell
The Education Services Settlement Act, introduced today in the Legislature, is an affront to the principles of fair collective bargaining, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). The Premier has reneged on his promise to teachers and is ensuring many more years of labour unrest in our school system.
"Premier Klein stabbed teachers in the back today," says AFL President Les Steel. "He promised them a fair process and instead rammed an unfair settlement down their throats."
"This is not arbitration. This is dictation," says Steel, pointing out that the bill exempts teachers from the Arbitration Act, which sets the rules for arbitrations. "This Act is not abiding by any of the basic rules of arbitration and collective bargaining. It is a bully act."
"Klein is a copycat. He is using the same bully tactics as Gordon Campbell in B.C. by striking out legally binding clauses in existing contracts," Steel highlights. "Not only is this immoral, it is most likely unconstitutional."
Steel states there are a number of horrible aspects to this bill. First, the restrictions place on the arbitrator are so tight that none of the teachers' issues can get heard. "He has shackled the arbitrator to force them to toe the government line."
Second, the bill strips away any clause in any active collective agreement that addresses class sizes, instructional time or classroom conditions. "These are legally binding contracts being ripped up by a rabid, ideological government."
Steel predicts more unrest and anger from teachers. "With this kind of provocation, I suspect to see years of increasing anger and action from teachers."
"Look out Ralph Klein; you may have released a tiger." Steel concludes.
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - The decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal to over-turn a government back-to-work order involving thousands of striking teachers is a victory for teachers on several levels, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"On the most obvious level this is a victory for teachers because it allows them to resume their strike, if they so choose," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"On another level, it exposes the weakness in the government's arguments that teachers shouldn't be allowed to strike. The Premier has been threatening to introduce legislation defining teachers as an essential service. But if the court says a three-week strike does not constitute an emergency, how can the government justify revoking the teachers' right-to-strike?"
Steel says Chief Justice Allan Wachowich's decision is important because it recognizes that all strikes - by their very nature - cause some degree of hardship. Wachowich went on to say that the hardship caused by strikes is an acceptable price to be paid for living a democratic society.
"The alternative to strikes is imposing a system that turns workers into criminals if they choose to stand up for themselves," says Steel. "That's why these kinds of restrictions have been rejected by most western democracies. And it's why the United Nations has defined the right-to-strike as a basic democratic right along with things like freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech."
On a practical level, strikes can be messy and disruptive - but they are often the only way to resolve contentious disputes in the workplace, adds Steel.
"In most cases, the playing field is tilted sharply in favour of the employer when it comes to contract negotiations," he says. "Without the threat of strikes, employers have no real incentive to consider the concerns of their workers. So strikes clearly have a place. They're a tool of last resort - but if the right-to-strike is taken away, it turns negotiations into a farce where employers never have to compromise."
In the current situation with education in Alberta, Steel says the right-to-strike has served a valuable public service.
"Teachers in this province have been trying to get the government's attention for years with public relations campaigns and other less confrontational lobbying strategies - all to no avail," says Steel. "It got to the point where they felt a strike was the only way to force the government to acknowledge their concerns about things like classroom size and chronic under-funding. If teachers didn't have the right to strike, the government would just continue on with its head in the sand."
Given the important role that strikes and the threat of strikes can play in resolving disputes and bringing simmering issues out into the open where they can be dealt with, Steel says that the government should stop making threats about essential service legislation.
"The dispute with the teachers is not going to be resolved by the government antagonizing teachers," says Steel. "What's really needed is for the government to stop hiding behind the school boards and acknowledge that they - as the central funding authority - need to get to the table and compromise. The government needs to accept responsibility for providing adequate funding for schools in this province."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, Communications Director @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-910-1137 (cell)
EDMONTON - The government can use its legal clout to force teachers back to work, but they can't make teachers and parents forget their concerns about over-crowded classrooms and chronic under-funding, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Using a back-to-work order may end the strike, but it will do nothing to address the problems that caused the dispute in the first place," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"As long as these problems remain unaddressed, teachers and parents will continue to be angry and dissatisfied - and the quality of education in our province will continue to suffer."
Steel says Premier Ralph Klein and Education minister Lyle Oberg are deluding themselves if they think that everything will return to business as usual once teachers are back on the classroom.
"The problem with these kinds of heavy-handed tactics is that they almost always backfire," says Steel. "Sure, you can force people back to work. But the government is running the risk of poisoning labour relations in Alberta schools for years to come."
Steel says that if the teachers don't feel they're being fairly treated, more and more of them are simply going to quit and it will become more difficult to attract new people to the profession.
"So, by playing tough-guy today, the government may win a short-term victory. But there will be a big price to pay in the long-run."
Steel also expressed skepticism about government plans to bring in a mediator if teachers and school boards are not able to reach an agreement by March 16.
"Arbitration only works if the arbitrator is completely independent and not a puppet of the government. We don't have confidence that this will be the case when it comes to the teachers' dispute," says Steel.
Steel says that the real problem - the problem that has been at the heart of the things since negotiations began - is that the government is refusing to put more money on the table.
"By refusing to consider new funding, the government is not giving the either school boards or the arbitrator any room to move," says Steel. "As a result, the arbitration process will be a sham - it's really just a front for an imposed settlement."
Steel says that what's really needed to end the dispute with the teachers is for the government to stop hiding behind the school boards and acknowledge that more provincial money is needed to properly fund schools throughout the province.
"I have no doubt that a settlement can be reached with the teachers without having to resort to heavy-handed legal action," says Steel. "But it's not going to happen until the provincial government acknowledges its responsibilities and gives the school boards the resources they need to reduce class sizes and pay teachers a fair wage."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 483-3021 (wk) 499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - Unionized workers from around the province are being encouraged to actively support the Alberta Teachers Association and its members in the likely event of a teachers strike.
In a letter sent to more than 250 local union presidents today, AFL president Les Steel urged the labour movement to throw its weight behind the teachers in their fight for smaller classrooms and better pay.
"The ATA is doing everything in its power to win a fair settlement for its members," wrote Steel. "But the reality is (they) will have a hard time winning this struggle on their own - they will also need strong support from the public and their allies in the labour movement."
Steel says that the teachers deserve support because they are fighting to protect and improve a public education system that is being compromised by chronic under-funding.
"We think it's wrong that our young people are being packed into classrooms like sardines," says Steel. "We think it's wrong that parents and students are being forced to hold fund-raisers to fill the holes left by provincial under-funding. And we think it's wrong that the provincial government is doing so little to attract and retain high quality teachers."
"(That's why) we think the teachers deserve support in their fight - because they are fighting to build a public education system that better serves the needs of students and communities across the province."
In addition to concerns about protecting quality education in Alberta, Steel says that working people should support the teachers to protest the inflexible approach to labour relations adopted by the government.
"If the provincial government is able to & force an unsatisfactory settlement on (the teachers), it will send a message to all employers that it pays to be inflexible at the bargaining table," writes Steel. "We simply cannot allow this to happen - we need to stand together with the teachers and show employers that the legitimate concerns of workers cannot simply be swept aside."
Steel says that members of the public can demonstrate support for the teachers by writing letters to their local papers and calling their MLA, the Education Minister or the Premier. They can even bring hot food to the teachers on what are sure to be chilly picket lines, says Steel.
"In short, do everything you can to make it clear that the public sides with the teachers," concludes Steel. "It's the only way that we can win this fight - and ensure that Albertans have the kind of high-quality public education system that they deserve."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021(wk) / 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-483-3021