The collective agreement is intended to cover all members of a bargaining unit and provide them with provisions in an equitable fashion. In some cases, collective agreement provisions require some form of decision making and, potentially, need an arbiter to make the call on language. These clauses can have issues if they place members of the same bargaining unit in potential conflict with another member by limiting the entitlement from the collective agreement.
In a school environment, the most responsible person would be the school principal, as they oversee the school’s operation. In other work or unionized environments, those in positions of responsibility commonly make decisions on their employees’ working conditions, not just enabling the relevant provisions. That places those individuals in the “manager” position making it inconsistent with the collegial environment that should be fostered in Alberta schools.
School leaders (including principals, vice-principals and assistant principals) are colleagues with their classroom teachers, not managers. While they play important roles in informing the decisions regarding the happenings in their school, having them in the final decider role places them in a difficult position and potentially in conflict with another bargaining unit member because of their role as agents of the division.
A common area where this occurs is generally with leaves of absence. Inclement weather language is a specific example. It would not be uncommon to find language that speaks to “in the opinion of the teacher” or “after making reasonable efforts” used in this type of clause language that requires members to judge the situation. While some language allows full autonomy for the teacher to make the decision, others have language that places the final decision in someone else’s hands.
While the language of the collective agreement will define who makes the decision on an entitlement, as previously stated, it should not traditionally have bargaining unit members making sole entitlement decisions for other members of the same bargaining unit. Even in situations where the language delegates authority, that delegation should not place school leaders in the role of manager and sole decider.
The Association has an arbitration award from an Edmonton Public grievance relating to leave of absence deciders that reinforces that position. The proper role of a school-based leader should be as informing the decision rather than being the final arbiter of the entitlement. However, some agreements do have language that places the administrator in a more significant decision-making role than is ideal.
There should be pushback where the language definitively states that the decider is the superintendent or other central office personnel, and they have arbitrarily designated that responsibility to an administrator. Should the language identify the “Superintendent or designate” as the decider and an administrator has been designated to be the final decider, then the Edmonton Public arbitration decision should be brought to the employer’s attention, and a resolution should be sought based on the award. Where the language specifically lists the administrator as the decider, we need to work with that language until it can be bargained out of the collective agreement.
Regardless of who the decision maker is, they are acting as an agent of the division and need to make those decisions reasonably. The grievance-arbitration process is open to address any clause in the collective agreement where a breach is believed to have occurred, independent of who made the decision.
Collective agreement language provides entitlements and provisions for teachers. Wherever possible, the employer should make decisions where the language requires it. School leaders should inform on the decision but should not be put in a position of final decider on entitlements for colleagues. Colleagues are not managers. Members with concerns should connect with Teacher Employment Services. #WEAREATA
Updates from ATA Provincial