Teachers at Horizon School Division overwhelmingly vote ‘yes’ to authorize strike vote

Click to play video 'Taber’s Horizon School Division teachers take step towards strike vote' Taber’s Horizon School Division teachers take step towards strike vote
WATCH: Teachers of the Horizon School Division in Taber, Alta., have voted in favour of requesting a government-supervised strike vote. Danica Ferris has more. – Aug 26, 2020

Nearly 90 per cent of teachers with the Horizon School Division No 67, in southeastern Alberta, have voted in favour of authorizing the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) to request a government-supervised strike vote.

Teachers in the division have been working for nearly two years without a finalized collective agreement, according to a press release on the ATA’s website, making them one of only 15 school boards in the province without a settlement since 2018.

“While teachers are trying to negotiate, the employer is stalling,” said Walter Plumtree, president of ATA Horizon Local No. 4 in the release.

“Horizon teachers are disappointed that they are being treated without consideration in light of all that is going on with the pandemic.

“There’s enough stress right now without having to contend with an employer who doesn’t respect you,” the statement goes on to say.

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Read more: Alberta Teachers’ Association requests school year delay at meeting with education minister

The ATA says teachers reviewed the latest offer from the division on Monday, which they say attempted to strip their collective agreement of several important measures such as leaves and substitute teachers.

In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, Plumtree said part of that vote is to have another tool in their tool box to ask the employer to get back to the table, in whichever form that may be, whether it’s virtual because of the pandemic or in person.

“We view our substitute teachers as kind of your essential workers, maybe people don’t think a whole lot about them until you need them and if you don’t have them then it becomes a really big deal,” Plumtree added.

He says the teachers feel as though the division is attacking leaves and substitute teachers, both of which teaching staff feel are critical for keeping schools open and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: ‘There is just no way to do this’: Teachers worry over school reopening plans amid coronavirus

“The regressive changes proposed by the board will effectively drive substitutes to work for other neighbouring school divisions. The availability of qualified substitute teachers in Horizon will be a critical issue in the year ahead,” Plumtree states.

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Global News received a statement from the Horizon School Division Board chair, Marie Logan, on Wednesday, which reads:

“The Board of Trustees does not wish to engage the ATA in collective bargaining via the media.

“We believe that bargaining is best-done face to face via meaningful discussions that are undertaken in a respectful collaborative manner.

“The board is desirous of reaching a memorandum of agreement that improves provisions for both parties.

“We believe that a fiscally affordable and financially sustainable agreement that furthers the desires of the ATA while maintaining the board’s flexibility to manage a complex education system that maximizes services for students is achievable.

“As such, we welcome a return to the bargaining table.”

Plumtree says teachers want to be in schools this fall. He goes on to state teachers are prepared to negotiate as long as the board is willing to “engage in meaningful discussions — a work stoppage is a last resort.”

According to ATA, teachers can now apply to hold a government-supervised strike vote at any time, and if a mandate is approved, they could legally strike with 48 hours’ notice to their employer.

The Horizon School Divison is based in Taber, and the ATA says it employs “approximately 220 full- and part-time teachers in public and Hutterian Brethren schools throughout southeastern Alberta, including Taber, Grassy Lake, Barnwell, Enchant, Milk River, Hays, Vauxhall, Lomond and Warner.”