Calgary Quest School fights to win fair contract!

As a social justice organization, UFCW Local 401 has been pleased to assist Calgary Quest School staff in their efforts to create a better school by providing funding, lawyers, negotiators, and union representation to employees who requested the help of the union.

UFCW Local 401 is lending all of its resources to Quest staff in the fight to win a fair union contract. For example, if employees are fired, the union provides lawyers to help get their job back, and in collective bargaining the union provides expert negotiators. When Quest employees questioned whether their economic needs would be met during a strike, UFCW Local 401 agreed to provide substantial strike pay. When Quest staff attended negotiations, the union has paid their lost compensation.

In addition to this support, UFCW Local 401 is lobbying the government to bring a resolution to this matter without a dispute. Union staff is also involved in a campaign to educate parents at the school and to secure their support in our efforts to build a better educational environment for their children.

On July 21st, the union sent a big message to Quest management meant to further the interests of employees and to show school management that the bargaining proposals before them must be taken seriously. If you are in the neighbourhood, you may have already noticed our banner message displayed on a motor home currently parked in front of the Calgary Quest School and to stay there for one week, the banner reads:

“Quest School on Strike August 25? Find out more 403-803-4270”

Further union negotiations have been scheduled for July 30th and July 31st. Prior negotiations have gone nowhere, and Quest management has not taken the bargaining proposals of their employees seriously. In our considered view, and based on our experience, they do not believe their staff would ever withdraw their labour. We believe they are wrong and the staff will vote to strike on August 25th if Quest does not offer their employees a fair union contract.

Indeed actions like this, and even strike votes, are intended to prevent strikes, not to cause them. The union does not want to cause its members undue stress and to spend thousands of dollars of its member’s money on strike pay. No one should ever want to go on strike. However, if the party you are negotiating with does not believe your position then they will have little to no incentive to bargain.

On July 21st, Quest management got a concrete preview of what a genuine strike would look like at the Calgary Quest School before the school opens in August and children return to classes.

If there were an actual strike at the school, the UFCW Local 401 motor home would remain parked in front of the Calgary Quest School as an everyday resource for striking workers; it would be a place for strikers to rest and take shelter from the elements, a place to have lunch, and a place to socialize and nurture friendships. Along with the motor home, portable toilets will also be made available to striking workers and those parents and supporters from the community who join our picket line to show their solidarity for the union and with the strikers. For now, the motor home is simply warming up our strike picket line for us.

To Quest employees: you did not join a weak union, you did not join a timid union. UFCW Local 401 will put its money and its resources where its mouth is, to back up our belief that Quest employees deserve better working conditions and respect and dignity at work. Nonetheless, there will be no strike unless you, the employees, vote for one as no Union Representative or negotiator will ever vote in any strike vote or on any contract.

The union has sought the input of Quest employees every step of the way in this process to unionize, 90% of the staff have asked us to fight for them and to boldly bring attention to their issues before a strike vote takes place. In this, UFCW Local 401 is advocating on behalf of Quest employees at the highest levels of government, including writing to the Premier of Alberta to bring attention to the working conditions at Calgary Quest School.

There is no magic wand to waive in labour relations. We face an employer that is stubborn, arrogant, and with access to a bank account funded by taxpayers, which they withdraw from to fund their anti-union actions. Quest employees have rejected their employer’s initial offer by well over 90% and told us what they wanted to see in a union contract. Quest management’s new proposals come nowhere close to what employees told us they want, and more importantly, what employees deserve as educators and caretakers of our children.

The actions of July 21st were certainly not radical; the Supreme Court of Canada has judged that union messaging of this kind is entirely legitimate. The union did not approach any parents or students, and did not try to impede anyone’s entry or exit to or from the school. It is hoped our message to Quest management will be understood for what it is, a strong and clear reminder that the Calgary Quest School will not function without its dedicated and hardworking staff who have the full support and resources of UFCW Local 401, the largest and most progressive private sector union in Alberta with nearly 30,000 members. UFCW Local 401 will continue to be a bold voice for Quest employees; we are there to help.

Learn more about strike pay at Calgary Quest School