ATA Magazine

At the table

Back in 1983, my second year of teaching, I became involved in the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). In the early 1990s, I started local collective bargaining and became an economic consultant. With this experience under my belt, I began working at the ATA in 1995 as the first woman staff officer hired in the Teacher Welfare program area, which was home to the ATA’s bargaining function. Many times, I was the only woman in the bargaining room.  

Over the years, women have had to carve out space in male-dominated venues and cope with misogyny (not even thinly disguised), persistently showing up to ensure our voices are heard and our issues respected. What needed and has started to be recognized in the bargaining context is that women bring a valuable perspective that can improve the working lives of all teachers.  

Because women often still bear the primary responsibility for managing households and children, many bring valuable insight to the bargaining table on issues such as

  • maternity and parental leave,
  • family medical leave,
  • child care and elder care, part-time and flexible working arrangements (without losing contract status), and
  • assignable time and reasonable workload expectations. 

Such insights and perspectives may align with the work–life balance needs of anyone with a family, regardless of their gender identity, enabling all teachers to have long and satisfying careers. It’s important to recognize that women have valuable contributions to make, with different women bringing different knowledge to the table. So, how can we bolster women’s place at the bargaining table? 

Groups engaged in bargaining activities need to foster a climate where women (and all teachers) are welcomed and valued. With this in mind, groups and committees might consider

  • covering child care (or elder care) costs,
  • ensuring meetings are held at reasonable times and
  • providing release time so meetings do not extend an already busy day. 

Most of all, all meetings must be safe spaces where everyone is encouraged to speak and knows their voice will be respected. 

Sharon Vogrnetz in a red blazer
Sharon Vogrinetz

Former Assistant Executive Secretary, ATA