This fall MTS undertakes the first round of central table collective bargaining in the history of our union. The significance is impossible to overstate.

After more than a century of bargaining hundreds of collective agreements for individual Locals across Manitoba, the province’s teachers will, for the first time, come to the table in their entirety to negotiate two agreements for the more than 16,000 members of MTS. One agreement covers 37 school divisions across the province, with a separate agreement for L’Association des éducatrices et éducateurs franco-manitobains (AÉFM).

While the lead table strategy employed by MTS for decades—one where the agreement reached first among Manitoba Locals sets the standard for remaining Local agreements—has proven effective, it has not always been equitable. MTS has long argued that some teachers, particularly those in smaller and less populous areas, have not enjoyed the same benefits and language obtained by colleagues elsewhere in the province.

“And that is why this moment is so important,” says James Bedford, MTS president. “There is strength in numbers and there is strength in having equity across the province. Our table team’s success will be defined by a province-wide agreement that reflects the needs of all members and enshrines the hard-fought salary, rights, working conditions and language that has evolved in Manitoba for over a century.”

A Bit of History

At MTS Provincial Council 2001, Resolution BA12 was passed by the assembly. The resolution called for a study and report on the impact of a single-tier (one table for English and French) bargaining model, triggering a process that included a brief to the Minister of Education advocating for a single collective agreement negotiated at a single table, setting teacher salaries, benefits and working conditions at the highest level across the province.

In 2011, MTS again lobbied the government for change via the union’s Provincial Bargaining Model Review Committee report, submitted to Provincial Council. The document put forward recommendations that would establish principles of bargaining within the context of a single tier or a two-tier (two tables: one French and one English) bargaining model.

Finally, in February, 2018, the provincial government announced its intention to move to provincial bargaining. At MTS Provincial Council AGM that year, Resolution BA1 was passed. It stated that “the Collective Bargaining Standing Committee be tasked with defining all operational details of the Provincial Bargaining Model (2011) for recommendations to the 2019 Provincial Council.”

Government officials began meeting with MTS in early 2018, with subsequent meetings taking place through January of the following year. In the spring of 2019, the province announced its intention to introduce legislation to replace the current system of Local bargaining with a provincial model.

Since that time MTS has delved deeply into preparations for negotiations, setting the stage with consecutive arbitration awards (Louis Riel and Pembina Trails Teachers’ Associations) that netted salary increases for teachers and laid the foundation for negotiation of the first-ever single-tier contract.

The Society is eager to begin this seminal round of bargaining.

“It’s the culmination of years of work to develop processes, protocols, and ultimately an opening package,” Bedford says. “Bargaining is fulfilling work. It has an immediate impact on the welfare of teachers, not only in terms of pay but also rights, working conditions, benefits and leaves. This is what we do, and we’re dedicated to it.”

Legislative Limbo

The path to progress has certainly seen its fair share of drama.

In 2017, the Manitoba government introduced Bill 28: The Public Sector Sustainability Act, casting a pall over public sector collective bargaining throughout the province. After a lengthy legal challenge in which MTS energetically participated, the legislation was ceremoniously struck down in the Court of Queen’s Bench as unconstitutional in June, 2020.

In 2019, the government put Bill 26: The Public Schools Amendment Act, on the Order Paper. However, the legislation, intended to usher in centralized teacher bargaining was never introduced.

On March 15, 2021, the report of the Commission on K-12 Education was unveiled along with Bill 64: The Education Modernization Act: a thinly veiled attempt to decimate school divisions, wrest control over local education from elected school trustees, remove principals and vice principals from the teacher bargaining unit in favour of “managers”, and politicize school curricula.

MTS mounted a relentless campaign against the legislation, along with education partners, faculties of education and opposition parties. The resulting public outcry forced the government to withdraw the legislation in 2021—along with a variety of other Bills—and compelled the premier to resign.

One key piece of legislation that survived the tumultuous legislative session was Bill 45: The Public Schools Amendment and The Manitoba Teachers’ Society Amendment Act. This, at long last, created the structure for provincial bargaining.

MTS’ Positions on Provincial Bargaining

MTS supports single-tier provincial bargaining with a uniform collective agreement for all teachers, subject to conditions. These include that:

• teachers will continue to be governed by the Labour Relations Act,
• MTS will bargain on behalf of teachers directly with the Province of Manitoba (the funder),
• bargaining must be free, fair and with an open scope,
• mechanisms for dispute resolution, such as interest arbitration, must be without limitation,
• the best provisions from existing collective agreements be the standard for the new contract,
• membership in MTS shall remain as it currently exists.

MTS is prepared to begin once dates for negotiations are set (the Society sent letters to the minister of education for the anglophone table and the DSFM board chair for the francophone table per Bill 45 in April, 2022). Dates have been set for the Anglophone table, while AÉFM awaits confirmation from the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine (DSFM).

“I hope our members engage in the process, follow the updates, and remember that bargaining is about bettering the lives of the collective,” says Bedford. “Solidarity is the key to the strength that 16,000 members provide. Our success will be defined by a negotiation that is fair, respectful and in the spirit of creating better public education for our students through improved remuneration and working conditions for our teachers.”

“Bargaining on behalf of members is a trust and a privilege. We want the best deal possible, and we’ll get there together.”

– Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of the MB Teacher