A Year in the Life: Collective Bargaining Committee

(This is post #3 in an ongoing series. For earlier posts, click here and here.) 

Around two years ago, I did something bold, for me: I put my name forward to run for a non-released position with my local. I’d been my school’s steward for several years by that point and had also attended the annual meeting in Toronto a few times. I’d served four years on a provincial standing committee. It felt like taking a more active leadership role within my local would be a good next step to get involved.

In my local, there are a variety of elected positions available to members, from released officers (our president, VPs, and chief negotiator) to non-released executive positions. The one I chose was the Collective Bargaining Committee – a group comprised of the chief negotiator and twelve others elected by the local. It’s a large committee whose responsibilities are primarily, as you might expect, related to bargaining and defending our collective agreement – but there are other duties, too, which I’ll get into in a minute.

Sending the e-mail to put my name forward was the easy part. Just a push of a button, really. It was everything that came after that which made me nervous. Despite having a job where I stand in front of people and talk all day, despite having done a lot of theatre in my youth, the idea of getting up in front of my local and giving a speech was terrifying. But I did it! I may have put off writing my speech until the last minute, as always, and I may have been petrified the entire time, but I got up there, made my case, and was elected to the CBC.

I’m in the second year of my 3-year term now. I’ve really enjoyed my time serving on the CBC, and boy, what a time I chose to be in this position. Between provincial bargaining, local bargaining, and the pandemic, it’s been… interesting, to say the least.

So, what does a member of the CBC do?

It’s worth noting that all locals have slightly different structures, and the position I have here may not exist in your local. Keep that in mind!

Naturally, our primary responsibility as CBC is to negotiate and administer the local collective agreement. During that process, we meet as a group to discuss membership priorities, collaborate on a preliminary submission for bargaining (our first presentation to the employer of what we’re looking for), and elect representatives from our committee to sit on the table team (the people who are actually there in the room when bargaining is happening).

I have to say, it can be very empowering to see your suggestions actually get put into the preliminary submission that goes to the table. Even if your suggestion feels like a small thing at the time, it’s exciting!

Beyond bargaining, however, we also have other duties throughout our terms. We have several committees which we serve on jointly with our employer, some which are a regular part of our year (such as staffing) and others which are shorter-term. During staffing, we collectively monitor the vacancy lists as they’re posted to ensure that nothing wonky happens along the way. There’s an annual survey sent to members to ensure that the CA is being followed and check in on members’ working conditions (e.g. 20 minute instructional blocks, adequate prep and supervision time, etc.) that we review. We hear about grievances (in vague details, to be clear) and discuss issues that we have heard or witnessed in schools.

We also discuss really important issues during our discussions on bargaining – such as when to go with what the majority of members have asked for and when we have a duty to fight for something even if it isn’t one of the highest-ranked priorities of members. Sometimes, the needs of the few must outweigh the needs of the many, particularly when dealing with equity issues.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I threw my name into the running for this position, but I’m really glad I did. My term will be up at the end of the 2021-22 school year, so I’ll need to decide if I’m going to try for a second term or look for other opportunities. No matter what I decide, though, this has been an incredibly valuable experience that taught me a lot about my local and collective bargaining.

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Updated: December 31, 2020 — 3:45 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4/5 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011. Former member of the ETFO New Members provincial standing committee. Current member of the OCETFO Collective Bargaining Committee.

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