Labour relations board rules Red Deer Catholic interfered with ATA business

By Troy Gillard (Twitter: @Troy_Gillard)
December 6, 2018 - 3:31pm Updated: December 6, 2018 - 5:31pm

The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) has ruled Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS) interfered with the work of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) after the union filed an unfair labour practice complaint over a series of events last year.

The ATA complained that an email sent by Associate Superintendent Dave Khatib to principals encouraging them to attend an Oct. 18, 2017 ATA meeting with Superintendent Paul Mason over concerns about increases in teachers’ work hours. In the email, Khatib said it might be a good idea for principals to attend the meeting to counter “some vocal detractors who may be embellishing what is really happening.”

The ATA cancelled the Oct. 18 meeting after learning of the email, saying teachers would be unable to share their concerns in a safe and open environment if principals were present.

In its ruling shared this week, the ALRB said the email represented an intentional effort on the part of Khatib to interfere with the meeting.

The union’s complaint also cited text messages between Mason and a principal they said “sought to sow dissention among ATA members” during an ATA bargaining unit meeting on Oct. 30, 2017. In the messages, the principal reported to Mason what was happening at the meeting and expressed her dislike and frustration with Chris Gibbon, the union’s local bargaining agent.

While he did not initiate the text messages, the labour board found Mason interfered with the meeting by participating in them.

The union’s complaint also cited a video featuring Mason that was shared with teachers after the meeting Oct. 18 was cancelled. The video explained the district’s rationale behind the way instructional and assignable hours were being implemented. The local ATA president at the time, Brice Unland, felt some of the information in the video was inaccurate and was presented in a misleading fashion.

The labour relations board dismissed the union’s concerns over the video, saying it was not an attempt to bargain directly with teachers or to disparage the union or undermine its role with teachers.

“We applaud the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruling relative to the video explaining instructional and assignable hours that was shared with all staff, as this was a significant decision in favour of the school division’s actions,” says Red Deer Catholic Board Chair Anne Marie Watson.

The labour relations board also ruled that a letter from Associate Supt. Kathleen Finnigan to ATA President Greg Jeffrey seeking to have Gibbon removed from his position was an attempt on the part of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools to interfere with the administration of the ATA and its selection of spokespersons.

The ALRB ordered Red Deer Catholic to cease “interfering with the ATA and the representation of its members” moving forward.

“We are pleased with this decision and feel vindicated that our concerns were validated,” Stephen Merredew, ATA Local 80 president says in a statement. “Local bargaining has stalled as a result of the board’s use of these divisive tactics. Teachers are getting very frustrated that this dispute has gone on for so long and simply want the board to get on with reaching a settlement.”

Watson added, “The school board is confident in the processes that have been implemented to ensure compliance with all parts of the ALRB ruling."

Red Deer Catholic is one of 13 districts in the province, out of 61 total, that has not reached a settlement with its teachers for the 2016 – 2018 period. Teachers in the district have been working for two-and-a-half years without a deal in place. Negotiations on a new agreement have been underway since October 2017 with the most recent meeting taking place this past Monday.

Merredew wants to see a return to bargaining in good faith. If a settlement can’t be reach he says the union has authorized the use of voluntary binding arbitration and hopes the district will do the same.  

In a release, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools says, “We have been working diligently with the ATA for a positive resolution to the negotiations. We are hopeful to come to an agreement as we have in the past, but will not be negotiating through the media.”

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