Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Teachers' strike hits 5 Catholic districts
No end in sight as both sides wait for government to provide cash
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Classrooms are empty in much of Alberta as the largest teachers' strike in the province's history began Feb. 4 affecting almost 240,000 students in 17 school districts.
About 13,704 teachers are off the job, including teachers in the Catholic districts of St. Albert, Fort McMurray, Calgary, Grande Prairie and the Lethbridge-based Holy Spirit Catholic Division.
While Red Deer Catholic averted the strike by settling with its teachers through last-minute negotiations, others are not even talking.
"Currently our teachers are on strike and at this point there are no negotiations meetings scheduled," said Dan McIsaac, superintendent of Fort McMurray Catholic.
Since there is no additional money coming from the government to satisfy the teachers' demands and no change in the teachers' position, "at this point we don't have a lot to negotiate on," he said.
Ninety-five per cent of the division's 208 teachers voted in favour of strike action and, according to McIsaac, "at this point parents seems to support the teachers' position. Whether that will hold over the long term, I'm not sure."
The strike affects 3,700 students in eight Fort McMurray Catholic schools. "I hope we will get back to the negotiating soon and get a settlement," McIsaac said.
The teachers' union is seeking a pay raise in excess of 20 per cent over two years as well as smaller class sizes. The government, however, has budgeted for a pay raise of just six per cent over the same period.
Starting teachers in Alberta currently make an average of $35,273 a year. Teachers at the top of the scale earn an average of $63,994. The government has already said it doesn't have the money to settle the strike.
Negotiations continue in St. Albert but there are no great expectations of a settlement as no extra money is coming from the government. A meeting between the board and the teachers' striking committee was scheduled for Feb. 7.
The teachers already rejected a Jan. 25 board offer that includes a salary increase of five per cent for the first year retroactive to Sept. 1, 2001. Teachers say unless the board ups the offer, the strike will continue.
"Maybe something new will come up at the meeting in terms of money, but I don't think so. I can't see where they are going to get the money," said Leo Bruseker, chair of the teachers' negotiating committee.
"And with us not willing to sign something that's at five per cent, we are at a stalemate. We've said the increase has to be double digit."
Of the 421 teachers at St. Albert Catholic, 420 voted in favour of a strike. But as Bruseker put it: "Our fight is really with the government, not with the board." The district's 18 schools are currently closed and the 250 support staff have been given layoff notices.
The Red Deer Catholic School Division reached an agreement with its 320 teachers Feb. 3. The deal will give teachers a salary increase of 11.5 per cent.
"Our parents and students are very happy that we settled," said Red Deer Catholic superintendent Don Dolan. "We have a great relationship with our teachers."