Friday, November 16, 2007

Pay Day For Alberta Teachers

File this under cleaning up outstanding issues before calling an election. What a difference five months make.

Alberta is signing a $2.1-billion cheque to avert a province-wide teacher strike.The Alberta government announced Thursday it will assume the $2.1 billion teachers' portion of their unfunded pension liability. In return teachers' associations across the province must pledge five years of labour peace.

Since it was created in the 1930s, the teachers' pension fund has been underfunded by both the government and the ATA. The liability currently totals $7.1 billion, including $6.4 billion up to 1992 -- when both sides agreed to increase their contributions -- as well as $700 million since then.

If they accept the deal, teachers will stop paying pension liability contributions -- 3.1 per cent of their salaries this year. The deal would save teachers roughly $2,000 a year that has been deducted from their paycheques for years to help cover the pension liability.

They will also each get a $1,500 lump-sum payment and a yearly raise tied to the average weekly earnings index, which is also used to calculate MLA salaries.

The deal came with two months left to prevent province-wide walkouts. If ratified by the 62 affected union locals by Jan. 1, 2008, it will give teachers a 3% raise this year and assume their payments for the fund beginning this year, bringing the immediate salary increase to 6.1%.

Additionally, teachers are limited under the Education Act to working no more than 200 days per year.

If school boards and teachers' ratify the deal, it will eliminate any possibility of strikes or lockouts until September 2012.

Alberta Teachers' Association president Frank Bruseker called the agreement one of the highlights of his career. He pledged to do everything he can to ensure it's ratified at the board level.

Shannon McElroy, president of the Edmonton Catholic teachers' local of the ATA, also praised the pact. "From my perspective as a local president it's unprecedented, historically, that we would reach a deal ... of this magnitude on so many issues," McElroy said. "I'm not seeing any downside to this."

The winners are the teachers and school boards. The province has got province wide bargaining that they always wanted but now they have to foot the bill. Be careful of what you wish for. This frees up school boards to use provincial funding for public education instead of teacher salaries.

But don't think that it means that teachers will vote Tory. On the other hand it does mean the Alberta Liberals have just been screwed.

But the losers are the Alberta Liberals - who in times past acted like they were the political arm of the ATA. "In raw political terms," Liberal finance critic Rick Miller gulped, "this means our policy platform just got a page shorter."

And you just can't satisfy some folks.

But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was scathing in its reaction to the deal, criticizing Stelmach for selling out taxpayers.

"Premier Stelmach has offered teachers $2.1 billion of taxpayers' money in exchange for them not going on strike during the upcoming provincial election," Scott Hennig, the group's Alberta director, said in a news release.

The federation calculated the deal will cost each Albertan $600, and called on the government to hold a plebiscite before signing any new agreement.

"Teachers are getting their debt paid off 52 years early and all taxpayers get is a lousy five years of no strikes."

$600 bucks for five years of labour peace. Priceless.


AIM High for more on the Alberta Government and its public pension plans.

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