Moe, Cockrill accuse STF of targeting Hoopla for job action

The reaction from the Saskatchewan government was the expected one Monday on news that Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation was threatening job action that puts in jeopardy the Hoopla provincial basketball championships.

Premier Scott Moe called “disappointing” the announcement from STF that they planned a one-day province-wide strike impacting Budget Day on Wednesday, and would pull extracurriculars province-wide on Thursday and Friday, impacting Hoopla in Moose Jaw.

“We see the teachers union targeting Hoopla, targeting ending this event that children and organizers have been working on for so long. So I would say that’s disappointing that the union would do that. They likely have spent more time working on how they are going to cancel this event, than they have spent at the bargaining table over the course of the last five months. So all of that is very, very disappointing.”

Moe said the government has “consistently tried to find points of agreement as best we can with no one else at the bargaining table for the last number of months.” He pointed to movement by the government on issues such as pilot programs to improve conditions in classrooms, responding to asks on health benefits, the investment in classroom complexity and the province providing a 15 percent increase in classroom support funding in advance of the budget. He also pointed to the memorandum of understanding with Saskatchewan School Boards Association.

“And so we’re trying to make sure that the government is finding these points of collaboration as best we can to get, yes, the union back to the table, but to ensure that the kids can remain in the classrooms, and so that our kids can remain participating in their extra curricular events. And so it’s disappointing to see the teachers union make a decision targeting students extracurriculars like Hoopla, and closing it down.”

When asked about STF characterizing it as the governments’ fault that Hoopla is in jeopardy, Moe responded “it’s their decision. It’s their decision to make.”

“They don’t have to shut down Hoopla. They could make a decision not to shut down Hoopla, and they can make a decision to come back to the bargaining table, and we respectfully would invite them to do so.”

Moe added that after 30 minutes of negotiating in the last five months that “the teachers expect their union to do more at the table, more than 30 minutes in five months. I know parents expect more of the teachers union in five months than 30 minutes at the bargaining table, and I would say certainly students expect more of the teachers union over the course of the last five months. And I think the government does as well. So we’re waiting, we’re sending out an invite weekly to the teachers union to ask them to respectfully return to the bargaining table.”

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill expressed similar sentiments at the Legislature in the afternoon.

“I’ve said, publicly, and directly to the STF leadership, I mean, if this is really all about the kids, then, as adults let’s sit down and figure this out. And, you know, there are several athletes and coaches in the gallery today. I’ve spoken with numerous parents and athletes and coaches over the weekend. I’ve spoken with the organizers of the Hoopla tournaments in Moose Jaw this year. There has been hundreds of hours of hard work put in by students and coaches, and really the organizers to prepare for this. And I understand that government and STF, we’re not on the same page right now when it comes to the contract. I get that. But at the end of the day, I’ve tried to demonstrate that government has made moves to get to an agreement. And it’s disappointing that the STF would target these types of activities that kids have worked so hard for all year long.”

As for STF’s contention that it’s up to the province to stop the sanctions from happening, Cockrell said ,”any job sanction that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation leadership chooses to do, that is the choice of union leadership… As I’ve said before and outlined, government has taken the actions of responding to several of the items that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation brought forward. We’ve brought forward a renewed mandate. We want to get an agreement done. We’ve been clear, though, that agreement won’t come at a cost of stripping local school boards of their abilities to manage things in their local school communities. But again, the choice of these sanctions, and any sanctions, quite frankly, is a choice of union leadership. This week is particularly disappointing.”

Cockrill seemed less worried that teachers have targeted Wednesday, the day of the provincial budget, for a one day provincewide strike.

“Budget day is always a busy day af the legislature. Obviously, when it’s also a site of a job action, it’ll make it a busier day here at the legislature on Wednesday. It’s not the first day they’ve been here at the legislature. It’s obviously disappointing that job action continues. As I have outlined in the house many times, government has come forward with the renewed mandate that answers a lot of the questions that STF had originally brought forward. And so, certainly, we hope that that eventually STF will come back to the table and discuss those in a more full way so we can get to an agreement and provide some predictability for students and families and teachers again.”

Cockrill continued to rule out binding arbitration to resolve the classroom complexity issue. 

“I’ve said it before, and maybe it sounds trite or whatever you want to put it but again, to go to binding arbitration on any issue after only half an hour at the bargaining table in the last five months, I don’t think that’s reasonable…. I think a more fulsome effort at the bargaining table should be completed before any sort of consideration of binding arbitration.”

He added that “we’re not going to negotiate with a gun to our head on this. And again, this is what I find really disappointing about the decision of union leadership this morning, to really use this tournament as a target and as a point of political leverage in these negotiations. We have extended invitations every single week to the Teachers Bargaining Committee. Before this week, we invited them to 19 days of bargaining and haven’t gotten a positive response from that. You know, again, what we have brought forward is significant: significant on salary, significant on classroom safety, significant on annualizing funding that the STF originally said ‘well do we know it’s going to be annualized?’ Yes, it will be annualized. That’s what we put forward. We have a multi year funding agreement with 27 school divisions. You know, quite frankly, and I’ve said this before, but where has STF leadership moved on any position in this whole thing? Government has moved in multiple areas, trying to show goodwill to get an agreement done. I don’t think the same could be said for the STF leadership and now they’re going after high school basketball tournaments which I find particularly disappointing.”

At the legislature Monday were a number of students including those who were hoping to participate at Hoopla this week. Among them was Kira Dureault who goes to Ecole Monseigneur de Laval in Regina. 

“We are begging our government to reasonably negotiate with the teachers union. It is severely impacting our lives as students,” she said. She pointed to the threat of cancelling Hoopla and said “we’re devastated.”

“Personally, I’m in grade 12, my grade 9 year was cancelled because of the pandemic. And here I’ve worked more than five months just to get to Hoopla. We’ve won and we’ve worked so long and we’ve been waiting. Everything we do all year is to get to the provincials and every school and every team that has tirelessly hours and hours of practice just wants to compete this weekend. That’s what we’re begging for, really.”

Dureault adds the students felt caught in the middle. “We fully support our teachers but at a point we’re like ‘what have we done?’ All we want to do is go to school, we want to play our sports, we want to further our education, and playing sports is a huge part of our education.”

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