A return to the bargaining table led to the ratification of an agreement between Rocky View School Division (RVS) and Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) Local #35.

Teachers recently voted in favour of a mediated memorandum of agreement to settle local bargaining for the 2020–2024 term.

Amrit Rai Nannan, ATA Local No 35 president says they were pleased Rocky View returned to the table and were willing to improve their position on key issues that were holding up the settlement. She says the agreement is on par with settlements found in neighbouring school boards, and, among other key changes, opened the door for improvements for the working conditions of distributed education (online) teachers.

"This agreement is an important step in the right direction to begin resetting the relationship between the school division and its teachers,” says Rai Nannan.

A tentative agreement was reached on Jan. 19.  At a Jan. 28 meeting, 76 per cent of the teachers in attendance supported its adoption.

The agreement provides an increase in the professional learning funding. As well, teachers now have one day for an emergency leave at the cost of a substitute and one day of leave with pay on their 25th and 30th year of service.

For the first time, substitute teachers have access to two days of compensation for attending the teachers' convention and will be compensated to attend an optional meeting at the beginning of the school year. Those substitutes travelling further distances to cover classes will also receive a mileage payment.

Key to finalizing the agreement was signing a letter of understanding that sets a timeline to examine conditions faced by online teachers. Research on best practices needs to begin within 45 days of finalizing the agreement and must be concluded within 90 days.

"That was one of the Issues that was holding up our agreement. Before that, there was not even acknowledgment that there was a need to look at those working conditions," says Rai Nannan.

In a written statement, RVS school board chair Fiona Gilbert expressed satisfaction with the successful conclusion of negotiations.

"We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with our local ATA that addresses what we heard was important to RVS teachers within the matters permitted to be bargained locally. We deeply appreciate the passion, expertise, and hard work RVS teachers bring to their schools and classrooms every day. We value all RVS teachers for their important contributions to students’ success, and we hope this agreement is a positive step forward."

A rocky road had to be navigated in reaching the agreement.

In November, the teachers voted 99.6 per cent in favour of seeking authorization for a strike vote after Rocky View negotiations presented a take-it or leave-it ultimatum and walked away from the bargaining table. 

UPDATE: Strike vote looming for 1,700 RVS teachers

Rai Nannan says no one was interested in taking a strike vote or the ramifications of leaving the classroom, but believes teachers felt they had no choice. She calls the meeting where the decision was reached to authorize a strike vote the most cohesive in her teaching career and years of service with Local 35.

"When we decided to authorize the taking of a strike vote, the membership stood in solidarity, and they were very upset that the employer had given us that ultimatum and they made their decision there. I truly believe that their solidarity is what helped bring back the board to the table because initially they said they weren't coming."

Even with the completion of the agreement, work continues behind the scenes by a joint teacher-division committee to address the growing workload issue. She says noninstructional tasks have increased immensely over the last decade.

"The more that we are tasked with noninstructional, or other pieces is time and energy that we're taking out of our classroom for our ability to help kids, and our ability to be effective in front of the kids. All teachers want is that sacred time that we have in front of our students to be valuable for them and for them to get the learning and help that they need on a regular basis."

The teachers' local is now turning its attention to the upcoming central provincial negotiations. She says they're in the collection phase of understanding what teachers want brought to the table. 

Since 2016, there's been a two-table system utilized in negotiating teachers' contracts. Matters of significant cost and broad impact on Alberta teachers is negotiated centrally. The negotiations between RVS and ATA Local 23 focus on local issues.

Teachers in Rocky View had been working without a finalized collective agreement since September 2020. RVS employs approximately 1,700 contracted and substitute teachers in public schools in Airdrie, Chestermere, Cochrane, Crossfield, Springbank and surrounding areas.