After months of posturing and picking fights with Alberta’s teachers, it appears that Education Minister Jeff Johnson was just posturing. But what the rookie cabinet minister was trying to accomplish is still unclear.
Minister Johnson announced this weekend that he would back down on his ultimatum made last week that teachers accept his last minute contract demands. The Minister threatened salary rollbacks if the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) rejected last week’s offer. The ATA’s elected council unanimously voted to reject the Minister’s demands.
In reality, hope for any provincial-level deal ended late last year when the Alberta Teachers Association, realizing that a province-wide agreement to address long-standing workload issues was not going to be reached, walked away from the table. At that point, it became clear that negotiations would return to the local school board level (where negotiations historically take place).
As the employers of Alberta teachers, locally elected school boards should be uncomfortable with the resentful tone of Minister Johnson’s ultimatum to trustees that negotiated contracts will be required to have three years of zero salary increases for teachers (as opposed to two years of zero salary increases already proposed by the teachers’ union).
“…be aware that any negotiated deals must include wage freezes for three years and no more than a two per cent increase in the fourth year. Anything else is simply not sustainable for our education system and will not be funded by government.” Excerpt from Minister Jeff Johnson’s email to school boards.
Whether teachers and individual school boards agree to two or three years without salary increases, the point remains that teachers’ salary will have little affect on this, or next year’s, provincial budget. The outstanding question is whether the ATA and local school boards can address the long-standing workload issues facing teachers across Alberta.
The Education Minister’s directive to school boards suggests that while the government has backed away from province-wide bargaining, Minister Johnson might not shy away from interfering in local bargaining.
Provincial politicians like school boards.
When popular decisions are made, like opening new schools, the provincial government takes the credit. When unpopular decisions are made, like closing schools or no-zero policies, then the provincial politicians are more than happy to let the school board trustees take the blame.
Meanwhile, following a request by Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton announced that she will investigate whether Minister Johnson breached the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by accessing government registries to send a direct email to thirty thousand Alberta teachers.