Is it a deal? Still uncertainty about the end of teachers strike

There still seems to be considerable uncertainty about whether a tentative collective agreement between the province and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation will be finally ratified by a vote of its members.

In fact STF leadership was not even willing to use the language “tentative agreement” to describe what had happened, despite the government using that language in a news release Wednesday.

In a call with reporters Thursday morning, STF President Samantha Becotte would only go so far as to refer to it as a “final offer” put forward by the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee. That final offer will be sent to STF members in a ratification vote on May 8 and 9.

Both STF President Samantha Becotte, left, and Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill had differing interpretations of the conclusion of negotiations.Screenshot courtesy STF/ photo John Cairns

In that call with reporters Becotte herself gave an unenthusiastic account of the two days of negotiations that had taken place:

“Over the past two days we have engaged in difficult conversations within negotiations and as we have said before, we didn’t want to go and sit at a table and hear no for another two days as we have previously experienced. Unfortunately, that is the majority of what occurred at the bargaining table with the GTBC.

“The GTBC opened the two days with a return to their opening salary proposals they had posted on billboards across Saskatchewan back in July at the beginning of our bargaining. There was little to no movement on many of the items at the table over the last two days despite the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee attempts to reach a tentative agreement. We said we were coming to the table in good faith, we wanted to work with the GTBC to reach an agreement that addressed the concerns that teachers have been putting forward over this round of bargaining, and really over the last decade both around classroom complexity, and having better supports for students, better protections around their working conditions, as well as improvements to their compensation.

“The GTBC was clear that what was being offered was their final offer. We pushed back several times, and we heard it repeated. As we have shared in the press release, and on social media, the final offer included a three year term of salary increases of three per cent in the first year, three per cent in the second year and two per cent in the third year, as well as one line that we have previously talked about, ensuring that the accountability framework be honoured and followed. In addition to that outside of the collective agreement, there was an agreement to have a letter of undertaking, signed by the chair of the GTBC. This letter would contain items outside of bargaining that would address some of the proposals teachers put forward. Unfortunately, as we have talked about with concerns around items outside of bargaining and classroom complexity, anything within the letter of undertaking would be non binding and there is no dispute resolution process.  

“Over the next couple of days, we will be sharing more detailed information with Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation members and we will be doing our dur diligence and providing time for members to time for members to consider all of the facts with the situation and all of the facts of the offer to have their questions answered in order to help them make an informed decision about this offer. Teachers will have the opportunity to vote on May 8 and 9.  

“Regardless of the outcome of the vote on this offer, the bargaining process has taken a toll on the sector. The actions that we have seen from government, the actions from Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and the actions of some divisions and administration have shown a lack of respect and appreciation for teachers in Saskatchewan, and a lack of appreciation for the work that they do as professionals in classrooms across Saskatchewan. Relationships have been damaged and they will not be easily repaired. We need to ensure we are working together in good faith with a real commitment to improving the experiences of students in all areas of the province.”

The words “final offer” differed from the “tentative agreement” language put out by the Government Trustee Bargaining Committee on Wednesday night.

When asked about that Becotte said the words “tentative agreement” would “imply there were good faith negotiations that happened, that there was a back-and-forth and both sides agreed that this would be the best potential offer, and that it did address satisfactorily the needs of those groups. This was very clear from the GTBC that this is their final offer, that there is no willingness to find further solutions within the bargaining process that address the concerns teachers had brought forward in this.”

The indication is that STF leadership isn’t going to give a recommendation one way or another to members on how to vote. Becotte further reiterated to reporters that STF was “a democratic organization, and we value the voice of our members, so we wanted to provide teachers with the opportunity to have their say on the final offer.”

“We have heard from the GTBC that they believe this is a fair offer, and we’re ready to present the facts to members and have them, like I said, weigh all the information, look at how it impacts them as an individual, how it will impact the collective of teachers across the province and how it will ultimately impact students in classrooms and make a informed decision about whether they feel that this is acceptable or not.”

In speaking to reporters at the Legislature, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill seemed more upbeat about the negotiations, and did not hesitate in referring to what transpired as a “tentative agreement.”

“If you’re taking something to members that’s a tentative agreement,” Cockrill said. “And I can’t control how STF chooses to communicate about this, but again our understanding from the GTBC side of things coming out of yesterday and over the last two days of bargaining is that we have a tentative agreement and that STF is going to take that to the membership for ratification.”

When asked about the prospect that STF members might vote to reject the deal, Cockrill said he was hopeful that the STF is “going to ratify this agreement and that we don’t go down that path. As I said, the agreement has the largest compensation increase for teachers since 2011, there’s significant additional investments being made into pre-K to 12 education. You know, at the end of the day, think about the last several weeks that we’ve seen across the province. We know that the sanctions have incredible impacts on the kids.”

After being asked again what would happen if teachers rejected the offer, Cockrill said he would “wait for the STF membership to see if they ratify this vote.”

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