The Limits of Professional Autonomy:

The Pentecostal Teachers Fellowship (P.T.F.)
and the Newfoundland Teachers' Association

The conflict between the union representing Newfoundland's teachers, the Newfoundland Teachers' Association (NTA) and the Pentecostal Teachers Fellowship (PTF), conjures up once again an analogy from the History of Roman Catholicism in the province, when Archbishop Michael Francis Howley and the church's administration opposed the Fisherman's Protective Union on grounds that its goals and tactics conflicted with Roman Catholic teaching and ethos. In the case of Newfoundland Pentecostals, church bye-laws state that the PAON does not endorse "unionism," and maintains that professional employees are strictly subject to those in authority. More specifically, Section 18,10,c holds:

The bye-law arose from the changed legal situation in which Pentecostals found themselves after they had gained the legal recognition of their schools but ante-dates the organization of Newfoundland teachers into a legal union with bargaining rights in 1973. During the NTA campaign for legal recognition, A. S. Bursey, the successor to Vaters in the chair of superintendency, wrote to his teachers: "We cannot reconcile devotion to duty and commitment to a purpose, which calls for dedication, with empty classrooms and the loss of valuable time, when pupils badly need counsel and guidance." And a "Pentecostal Education Brief" of December 1972 to government lobbied against granting teachers the right to strike since such was "unworthy of every basic principle and ideal of the teaching profession." One could quickly judge such statements as governed by administrative self-interest, but Pentecostal teachers seem to share this viewpoint in overwhelming numbers.

A Pentecostal Teachers Fellowship (PTF), designed by Shaw in the early 1960s, became reality under an impending strike threat a decade later. From 1972 on until the present, Pentecostal teachers were able to negotiate with their union by the slimmest of margins what amounts to a "conscientious objector" clause during a strike. The present arrangement permits continued work by the Pentecostal teachers in the event of a strike, with the excess salary beyond authorized strike pay to flow into a separate fund. This represents a precarious compromise, neither liked by the NTA nor the majority of Pentecostal teachers who favour a separate bargaining unit but are prevented by law to do so. Rideout, who statistically investigated 397 Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal teachers, found that "the Pentecostals expressed clear disagreement with both partial and complete withdrawal of services to resolve impasses in collective bargaining, while on political involvement and use of the media they expressed less agreement than their non- Pentecostal counterparts." He also found that denominational membership was the strongest factor in explaining these differences in attitude, while religious commitment and gender influenced attitudes toward partial and full withdrawal of services as well.

Thus, in the area of labour policy, a clear situation of conflict emerges between religious ethos and professional autonomy, the former clearly taking precedent over the latter, both among employers and employees alike. This does not contradict but rather affirm the only partial secularization of the Newfoundland Pentecostal movement. In the case of the Newfoundland Pentecostal teachers, the professional ethos and its commensurate financial value have not become an independent sphere of legal resolution but are embedded in a wider outlook on education, which, in the view of teachers and administrators alike, have as their prime value the education of the child, not the professional autonomy of the teacher. In this ordering of priorities, Newfoundland Pentecostal teachers preserve -- albeit in significantly changed form-- a spark of their original sectarian character.

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