Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Though the Alberta Teachers Association has performed both a union and a regulatory function for nearly 100 years, they may be facing a change to long standing culture as the Alberta government plans to split the association.
“Right now, we’re an association that has a professional regulatory and the union function. So Minister LaGrange wants to split out the regulatory function because she believes that the association, even though we’ve been doing this work for 86 years, is not capable of handling teacher discipline any more,” said Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association President.
“It’s become part of the culture of the association, we’ve done a lot of work to ensure that the process is fair. Its public, public members can attend. We have public members on the committee’s our reports are published, which is different than the way that the ministers process happens, because the minister does the discipline for teachers who are not members of the ATA, they do not have public hearings, they do not release findings of their committee discipline reports, whereas the ATA does,” said Schilling. “So we worked really hard with that to make sure that we have this culture of a unified profession and collegiality within our schools. And part of the concern about splitting the association is that we’re going to dramatically alter and change that culture within our schools and you end up getting a union and a college, which you have in other jurisdictions across the province, and sometimes you’ll find the union in the college at odds with one another. And we don’t want to see that happen in schools in Alberta.”
Should the legislation be carried forward, the ATA would become more along the lines of a traditional trade union, which works solely for the benefit of its members, said Schilling, where they currently work for the good of public education, which includes not only the welfare of teachers, but the students and parents as well.
“But of course, we have a government that has a majority and legislative pen, that without any kind of consultation on this idea with us, could dramatically alter the way that public education looks in this province,” said Schilling.
Though the ATA has been in communication with the Minister in regards to a previous bill, said Schilling, there was no consultation prior to the announcement on December 9th.
“We’ll be talking with their members to make sure that they understand what this process is, why it’s important, we’ll also be talking with MLAs, as well to make them understand the importance of this issue and why this is not a really good idea in the long run for public education in Alberta,” said Schilling. “But also talk to them about the fact that this is really a slap in the face for teachers. They already feel disrespected by this government in terms of the lack of consultation around curriculum, the lack of a really clear plan coming into school this fall with COVID, how they just sort of advocated that leadership responsibilities, school boards, and you saw a myriad of different protocols. Masking is a good example. Some were masking, some weren’t until the provincial mandate came in. There’s been a lot of confusion, chaos, disrespect, and teachers feel demoralized by this government. And then to add this on to one more thing. Well, teachers are working day in and day out trying to keep an education system afloat. And a pandemic, is just another slap in the face that wasn’t necessary.”