A collective agreement is a binding contract between an employer and the union representing the employees. It not only sets out things like salary, parental and sick leave, vacations, and pensions, but also details of hiring processes and working conditions. Almost every clause refers to employers and employees. It makes sense that collective agreements at GM and Disneyland only mention cars and roller-coasters in the context of workload and safety. It makes no sense that in most school board collective agreements students are only mentioned in passing and then in the context of workload limits.
The laws dictating the bargaining process vary between jurisdictions. All define the steps in the negotiation process between union and company management. Most give the government the power to order the end to a strike that place people’s health or well-being in danger (e.g. garbage collection, railways, and nurses). Some jurisdictions ban strikes at critical public institutions such as police departments and schools.
By its nature, collective bargaining can create significant conflict between the union and its members on one side and the employer on the other. Clients, customers, and others are stuck in the middle with little say. It is bad enough when our local supermarket or even the garbage collection is shut down due to a strike or lock-out. But it is whole other thing when a school shut down, forcing parents to stay away from their jobs to look after their children.
In most agreements shift schedules, seniority provisions, or sick day provisions only affect workers, but these details have a direct impact on the culture of the school and on student well-being and achievement Only in schools, long-care care residences, and perhaps prisons do small contract details have such a great impact, because no other type of organization has such a close and constant relationship with those it serves.
If you care about our public schools you should also care about more than the few details reported by the press. Read the collective agreements that affect the lives of your community’s children and youth; ask people in your local school how the tiny details affect school culture and treatment of students; and make your voices heard before and during the collective bargaining process.