It took an intervention by Alison Redford to sew up a deal for Alberta’s teachers, with the Premier promising to review workloads and not tamper with job security rules.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) union is now recommending a four-year deal that freezes wages for the first three years, with a two-per-cent raise and a one-per-cent, lump-sum bonus in the fourth year, just before the next provincial election.
Ms. Redford was joined by ATA President Carol Henderson Friday morning in announcing a deal, one that ends bitter talks that saw the ATA sparring with Education Minister Jeff Johnson while the Premier gave ominous warnings of “tough choices” facing the province.
It was a letter from Ms. Redford’s office Tuesday night that broke the logjam, Ms. Henderson said in an interview. “We did get an offer from the Premier. It was, in two respects, certainly a lot better than what we had in the past,” she said. The offer pledged two reviews of teacher workload, and guaranteed no changes to the “continuous contract” status of teachers – in effect, their seniority.
“Teachers were not about salary this time around,” Ms. Henderson said. “What they needed to know was that their employment conditions would not change.”
Ms. Redford praised the deal as one that “puts students first.” Her government tabled a budget earlier this month that, amid declining oil revenues, offered no new money for raises.
The government was pledging to fund the fourth-year raise and bonus, though school boards were concerned. “We have no guarantee that the government’s commitment to fund staff cost increases will materialize,” Edmonton Public School Board Chair Sarah Hoffman said in a written statement.
The province’s 62 school boards were also excluded from the deal, but will still have to ratify it. Ms. Henderson shrugged that off, saying teachers, too, were hardly involved – they just got the Premier’s offer.
The deal doesn’t make any changes to teachers’ underfunded pension plan. That liability now stands at $8.4-billion, and is projected to grow by $320-million over the next three years. Teachers are hiking their contributions to help address the shortfall, Ms. Henderson said.
Bob Ascah, director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Public Economics, said Ms. Redford was under pressure to strike a deal after she was seen to have wooed the political support of teachers.
“She had a lot of credibility at stake here in terms of trying to deliver something that would work with both the fiscal reality they’re facing, and the kinds of promises they made,” he said. The three-year wage freeze means teachers will be “sharing some of the pain” as the province reins in its budget, half of which – $19.8-billion per year – goes to public-sector salaries, he said.
“I think that it’s probably the best deal both parties can get in terms of the current fiscal environment,” Dr. Ascah said.