file photo

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WRPS can still avoid a teacher’s strike

For parents and teachers alike, these past 12 months have been like nothing any of us can remember. Parents and teachers have been tested in ways we could never have imagined. But I’m so grateful for how we’ve come together to put kids first and to do our best to make sure they’re still getting a good education.

On March 22, Wetaskiwin teachers will be voting to decide whether to go on strike. As the president of the ATA’s Wetaskiwin Local, I want to take this opportunity to talk to parents who may be concerned.

I want to be very clear. Teachers don’t want to go on strike, and a strike is not inevitable. We want a negotiated agreement. But in order to get that, we need a school board that is willing to negotiate constructively and to treat teachers respectfully and fairly. Right now, Wetaskiwin is not that school board.

It’s important to know that teachers in Wetaskiwin have been working without a finalized collective agreement for more than two and a half years. Wetaskiwin is one of the last two school divisions in the province to settle with teachers; 59 other school divisions have already reached an agreement for this 2018–20 term. Our expectations and asks in bargaining are not different from what has been achieved elsewhere.

The things we’re asking for (protections for substitute teachers and a wellness spending account, among others) are standard in teacher agreements elsewhere, so our position is both reasonable and affordable. We’re only asking to have what 99 per cent of other teachers in Alberta have—and we don’t understand why the board thinks we shouldn’t have them.

What’s particularly frustrating is that the board prioritizes teacher wellness, yet they have been unwilling to offer a wellness account to teachers until later this year, when other education workers at WRPS have had one for years. We are also concerned that the board chose to use public dollars to purchase new technology for its central office, rather than sending it to schools to make classrooms safer.

This is about priorities, and it’s not clear what priorities the board has.

Our priority is, and always has been, to teach. Just like you, we care deeply about our students and we would like to get back to focusing entirely on them. But we want to be treated fairly and we are prepared to stand up for ourselves when we’re not being treated fairly.

Our teachers have been hearing from a lot of parents who are concerned about what a strike means. I want to make it very clear that if we do decide to strike, there will be a minimum of 72 hours’ notice provided to the employer, and we would make that notice public. We’ll also talk to you about what’s happening and what it means for your family.

But it’s worth repeating again: we don’t want a strike. We hope the school board decides it’s ready to negotiate reasonably so we can come to a fair agreement. Please call your trustee and encourage the board to negotiate fairly and to get an agreement.

These days, people often say “we’re in this together”; in the case of parents and teachers, it is absolutely true. Right now, we are asking for your support to help us get a fair agreement so we can get move on doing what we love—teaching.

—Morgan Spruyt, President, ATA Local No 18

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