Prince Albert part of rotating STF strike planned for Thursday

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Teachers walked the picket line on 15th Street for their second one-day strike on Monday.

Both the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School division teachers and members of the Prince Albert Area Teachers Association (PAATA) are part of a rotating strike by STF members scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 1.

The STF announced the further job action at a press conference Monday. STF President Samantha Becotte said rotating job action is an attempt to bring the Government of Saskatchewan back to the bargaining table.

“I am extremely disappointed that I am once again here to announce further sanction action,” Becotte said. “This is not how negotiations should be.”

Becotte said classroom composition and complexity are the most important item for teachers, but salaries that keep up with the cost of living are also a priority.

As for why the STF did not engage in another provincewide strike like the ones on Jan 16 and Jan. 22, she said they were engaging a large percentage of members in the strike action.

Job action requires 48-hour notice. In the past, the STF has given five days notice ahead of job action.

“We’ve considered all of the possible actions that we could take,” she said. “This is the action that we’ve chosen in the hopes that government starts taking this seriously.

“Teachers would return to the table to negotiate an agreement but we need a commitment from government that the GBTC (Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee) will have a new mandate that gives them the authority to engage in meaningful negotiations.”

Becotte argued that the Government is misleading the public by ignoring the majority of teachers proposals and focusing on salary.

“They frame teachers as greedy,” she said.

Strike action includes Conseil des écoles fransaskoises schools that fall within the above geographic boundaries, and Saskatchewan Distance Learning Centre (DLC) teachers who work at a school or regional campus. The strike therefore includes Ecole Valois and DLC North Central Campus in Prince Albert.

The STF’s 13,500 members want to return to bargaining and get back to a regular school year. They stated that government has not moved from their opening proposals.

There could be a second round that affects centres like Saskatoon and Regina.

School divisions were not chosen for a specific reason as Becotte said that the end goal is getting Government back to the table.

She said that approximately 3,000 members, or 20 to 25 per cent of membership, would be on the picket line on Thursday.

“We have also seen a lot of support from members of the public in our last two days of action and we hope to see those continue in future days,” Becotte said.
She said that matters such as classroom complexity have been found to be something that could be negotiated in other provinces. The STF stated that the claim is also counter to the Conciliation Board’s report which delivered its recommendations earlier this month.

Roughly 35,000 students will be affected according to Becotte and 20 to 25 per cent of membership.

“There are many factors at play when we are selecting our next course of action, and we appreciate how this situation impacts people. Teachers are strong in our resolve, and support throughout our communities and across Canada has been so important. I thank everyone who has joined the cause for publicly funded schools. Our voices are strongest together,” Becotte said in a press release.

To coincide with Thursday’s job action, the STF is holding an Advocacy Day to help put pressure on government to return to the table, ready to negotiate on class size and complexity.

The STF urged all parents, students, businesses and community members to register to take part in Thursday’s Day of Advocacy. All you need to participate is a smart phone or computer with internet access.

PAATA President Jean-Marc Belliveau was not available for an interview on Monday.

Other teachers’ associations involved include the Horizon Teachers’ Association (Horizon School Division in the Humboldt area), Holy Trinity Teachers’ Association, (Holy Trinity Catholic School Division in Moose Jaw and surrounding area) and Tri-West Teachers’ Association (Light of Christ Catholic School Division, Living Sky School Division and Sakewew High School in North Battleford).

Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Neil Finch said on Tuesday, Jan. 16 that the division will be prepared for a full strike if it happens. The division again released letters to parents on Monday following the announcement by the STF that all classes were canceled in the division.

“We will respond to whatever comes our way,” Finch said. “The STF was really good with giving more than 48 hours notice, so as long as that continues on it gives us time to plan.

“We will respond to whatever comes our way in regards to the job action,” he added.

The Prince Albert Catholic School Division also released letters in advance of the Jan. 16 first strike and again for the June 22 second one-day strike. Director of Education Lorel Trumier said that the division received notice on Jan. 17 that some type of action was forthcoming on Jan. 22.

“We had no sooner sent information out to parents today about being prepared for situations where teachers would withdraw their services in some areas or a provincial-wide strike that we had to prepare them for anything on that continuum,” Trumier said.

Trumier said that the division had already cancelled extracurricular activities before the notice by the STF. They also closed schools on Jan. 22 after the strike notice.

“It’s putting people in a position to have a bit of time to make the plans that are necessary for their children,” Trumier said.

She added that a province-wide strike of any type is significant.

“It’s a significant message to look at different ways to improve working conditions for teachers and for students and we’re hoping for a positive resolve, and we’ll trust that the two bargaining committees will continue to work at this to resolve it quickly,” she said.

Government focuses on salary in response to job action notice

In a statement emailed to the Daily Herald by the Ministry of Education on Monday they stated that the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee has put forward a fair, initial offer for teachers with a 7 per cent raise over three years, ensuring Saskatchewan teachers remain paid above the Western Canadian Average.

“Outside of the collective bargaining process, the Government of Saskatchewan have said we are actively working to address concerns around class size and complexity and we are doing exactly what we said we would with a $53.1 million investment towards enrolment and complexity, a teacher-led innovation and support fund, and specialized support classroom pilot projects,” the email read.

“A fair deal for teachers must also be a fair deal for taxpayers. Saskatchewan taxpayers already contribute the most per capita to education in the country and right now the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation is asking for a salary increase of 2 per cent plus the Consumer Price Index each and every year, for four years. That amounts to a 23.4 per cent increase.

“We also know that affordability is top of mind for families right now, which is why a fair deal for teachers must also be a fair deal for taxpayers.”

They added that the GTBC remains at the table, ready to discuss competitive salary and benefits but cannot negotiate without the STF at the table as well.