October 22, 2021
** This communiqué was sent to all NBTF members by email.**
Communiqué – Possible Job Action by CUPE
As you are aware, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the bargaining unit representing educational and clerical staff (2745), custodians, and bus drivers (1253) is currently in a strike position.
We understand that you may have questions/concerns regarding the impact this may have on your working conditions and what your role and responsibilities will be during a strike.
The NBTF has not received the employer’s operational plan in the event of a strike. We continue to pressure Government to provide clear direction to school districts, school administrators and teachers.
Some information that we can provide at this time:
What are the obligations for teachers regarding attending school and carrying out professional duties?
During the school year, teachers have a contractual responsibility to attend school and be available to teach or to carry out such other professional duties as assigned by the Employer. Therefore, if schools continue to operate during a work stoppage, teachers must report.
Principles to be followed with respect to teachers’ obligations to their students in the event of a work stoppage:
“Act now, grieve later”
The employer may ask you to perform different duties. You are encouraged to discuss your concerns with your supervisor should you feel that these duties are outside your normal work. If required by your supervisor to comply, you must act and communicate with the NBTF for advice.
If you refuse to comply, you could face disciplinary action. You are entitled to voice your concerns and you may ask the employer to reconsider. However, if there is no change, you must comply with the directive.
Some CUPE positions have been designated as essential under the Public Service Labour Relations Act (the “Act”), which means that they will continue to work during a strike. Non-designated employees will be on strike and the Act prohibits those employees from being replaced.
While you may question the directive, and voice your concerns, if required to perform tasks that are usually performed by CUPE employees, you must comply, and contact the NBTF for advice.
As part of this process, the NBTF would inform CUPE of the potential violation of the Act.
Right to Refuse
Your obligation to follow directives from the employer is subject to your right to refuse to perform duties where you have reasonable grounds for believing that they are likely to endanger your health or safety or the health or safety of any other employee. If the absence of CUPE members in your classroom or school causes you to have genuine concerns about your safety, you should not hesitate to exercise your right to refuse.
What is an illegal strike?
Under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, all strike activity is prohibited unless a deadlock has been declared and a strike vote has been taken. The NBTF is not in a strike position, so any strike activity by NBTF members is prohibited.
The Act defines strike as follows: “includes a cessation of work or a refusal to work or to continue to work by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or a slowdown or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output”.
Virtually any collective action by teachers that impacts on the employer’s ability to operate schools, even where the same action exercised by a single teacher would be entirely appropriate and permissible, could constitute an illegal strike.
Individuals and unions that participate in illegal strike activities could face severe penalties.
Can teachers decide unilaterally to stay away from school?
No. If teachers decided unilaterally to stay away from school, such action could be considered an illegal strike in contravention of the Act and of Article 4 of the Collective Agreement, which states: “There shall be no strikes or lockouts during the term of this Agreement.”
What happens in case of picketing?
Striking employees are prevented from picketing or demonstrating on the school property. However, if picket lines are in place and prevent entrance, or if any group attempts to prevent teachers from entering the school, teachers should confer with the principal who should report to the Director of Education and request advice on how to proceed.
Teachers should refrain from any action which could reasonably be seen as constituting a danger to their personal safety.
Should you have further questions, you may wish to contact the NBTF at 1-888-679-7044.