POLITICS

Alberta Teachers' Association warns government against imposing contract

02/05/2013 05:11 EST | Updated 04/07/2013 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - The Alberta Teachers' Association is warning the government not to impose a contract on the province's 42,000 public school teachers.

Education Minister Jeff Johnson has been talking about the possibility of a legislated settlement during meetings with individual school boards.

Association president Carol Henderson said such talk is needlessly provocative.

"I'm extremely puzzled that this minister, and for that matter this government, continues to take a confrontational approach to negotiations with teachers," she said Tuesday.

"I will tell you a legislated settlement — we would consider that a direct and unwarranted attack."

Alberta teachers walked away from talks about a provincewide deal in December after the government rejected a four-year offer that included no wage increase in the first two years, one per cent in the third year and three per cent in the fourth year.

The association is now negotiating separately with each of the province's 62 public boards.

Alberta Education spokeswoman Kim Capstick said some school boards have asked the government to impose a wage settlement because of tight budgets.

She said the idea of imposing a deal was first raised by a trustee at one school board, but now Johnson has been raising the issue when he sits down with every board to discuss contract talks.

He has met with about two-thirds of the boards so far and is to meet with trustees in the Edmonton as well as Calgary Catholic board later this month.

Capstick said the government hopes that each board can reach an affordable contract with the teachers' association, but the province needs to have contingency plans in case that doesn't happen.

"We are obviously still hopeful that we are going to get deals, but it is taking a lot longer than we hoped and we want to make sure that we are considering every option to make sure that there are not disruptions to the classroom," she said.

Capstick said the government would only resort to a legislated settlement to avoid turmoil in schools.

Henderson said teachers have no job action planned and called on the government to give the bargaining process with the school boards a chance to succeed.

She said Johnson should do everything he can to avoid what has happened in Ontario, where the government imposed a contract on teachers that resulted in strikes and other disruptions.

"It has been an absolute disaster in Ontario," she said. "Taking away the extracurricular activities, not volunteering to do things in the schools, is that really where we want to go in Alberta? I don't think our teachers do."

Alberta Education says teachers in the province are among the highest paid in Canada. A teacher with 10 years of experience earns an average of $92,300 per year.

Capstick said the message to teachers and school boards is that the government can't afford any deals that will increase the cost of funding education.

"We are not trying to pick a fight with anybody," she said. "We are trying to make sure that teachers understand the fiscal realities we live in."

Capstick said the government would be willing to work with the Alberta Teachers' Association on a provincewide deal.

The association said it would consider the idea if the government used the contract officer it rejected in December as a starting point.