Prince Albert teachers line 15th Street for 1 day strike

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald PAATA members were on 15th Street in Prince Albert as part of a one day strike on Tuesday.

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) was out on picket lines in Prince Albert on 15th Street on Tuesday morning.

The one-day strike was announced last Thursday as contract negotiations remain at a standstill for its 13,500 members.

Prince Albert Area Teacher’s Association (PAATA) President Jean-Marc Belliveau said that more than 800 teachers from Prince Albert and the area spread themselves up and down the street.

Members walked along 15th Street from Cornerstone to Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross’ office with a large gathering at that location around noon. The day was a cold one, but Belliveau said that would not stop teachers from walking the picket line.

“We want to send a message,” he said.

“There’s some cold looking people out there. It is freezing. I’ve heard comments of my eyebrows being frozen already, but I think people, they have had enough. This sends a message on itself that we’ve had enough. We’re willing to stand in –30 C.”

Belliveau said teachers drove in from as far as Big River to stand on the picket line. He said that shows a lot of solidarity among members.

“We want to send a message, (and) people seem supportive,” he said.

“We are being respectful to everyone that is driving around. I gave directives to, give priority to the customers for parking and stuff like that,” Belliveau said.

The matter of class complexity remains a sticking point in bargaining talks. Belliveau said it’s “a very important piece” of bargaining, but the sides remain too far apart.

The STF has accused the Government of cutting $2,517/per student from education funding. Belliveau said the drop in funding is unacceptable.

“After years of government cuts and underfunding, things urgently need to change in our schools,” he said. “It’s time to listen to voices of parents, students and teachers all saying that the government’s lack of support is hurting kids.

“These kids deserve better. It’s time to reverse the cuts and invest in education to fix crowded and complex classes,” he added.

The PAATA represents teachers in more than 40 local schools. Belliveau said members have raised concerns with him about classroom complexity before.

He said that he has heard about classroom complexity from PAATA membership.
“I do hear stories of ‘it’s not good working conditions,’” he said. “Things like violence free classrooms, I don’t understand why that can’t be an acceptable piece of agreement. I know it can be complex, but to say that we can’t have a violence free classroom? I don’t understand.”

The province announced a pair of pilot projects last week including one around classroom violence that included the two Prince Albert school divisions. Belliveau welcomed the funding increase, but said it won’t be enough.

“I read stats so the eight schools that they have the $2.5 million you represent that over the entire province, it would be like $400 million or something like that. A lot more work and funding needs to happen to make this province back to number one,” he said.

The STF also launched a new campaign on Tuesday urging residents to write a letter to Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill. The campaign includes a new website,, where residents can sign-up for updates and write emails.

All Saskatchewan Rivers schools were closed on Tuesday due to the strike. Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Neil Finch said the division was prepared for the one day strike and will be prepared for a full strike, if it happens.

“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.”

The division is also meeting with the PAATA Executive on Wednesday. The two groups set the meeting date before the STF announced their strike action.

Finch said Saskatchewan Rivers released letters to parents about school being cancelled when the strike was announced last Thursday.

“That was helpful so that we could continue to have a plan for today,” he said.

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

In a letter to parents last Thursday, the Prince Albert Catholic Division said the school division aims to minimize disruption to student learning, but respected the process.

“We respect the collective bargaining rights of our Teacher STF members and the work that will be completed with the Provincial Government Trustee Bargaining Committee,” reads the letter.

PA Catholic Director of Education Lorel Trumier was not available for an interview on Tuesday before deadline.

Government won’t budge on classroom complexity says Cockrill

While speaking with reporters at the Legislature Tuesday morning, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said that classroom complexity was a ‘line in the sand’ that the government would not move on.

He said that school divisions were better equipped to deal with those issues because each division has different demographics.

“We believe that issues around classroom size, complexity are best dealt with by school divisions,” Cockrill said.

“We think school divisions are best positioned to manage that, and again, we’re going to continue working with school divisions to support them.

“The union’s request is basically to take that away from locally elected school boards, which we don’t believe is in the best interest of education from a big picture, and certainly we think it’s important (to have a) local voice in education.”

Cockrill said that he has had productive meetings with local school boards, which included Saskatchewan Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic on Monday. He said that every community looks different.

“It’s going to require us to work in a very local approach with school divisions, but again, that’s not something that we’re going to put in a bargaining agreement,” he said.

“The Union’s ask around classroom complexity is not something that we’re going to move on. I’ve also made the comment that I think the salary ask is unreasonable and unfair to Saskatchewan taxpayers.”

Cockrill said that there are other issues that the STF has raised that he is willing to look at.

“We want a deal that gets kids back in the classroom that provides some predictability to their families and teachers alike,” he said. “Our hope is that we can get to a bargaining agreement.”

Cockrill is not considering starting the legislature early to create back to work legislation.

The opposition NDP was out on picket lines with teachers on Tuesday. NDP leader Carla Beck said it’s disappointing to see how the government has handled the issue.

“At least try to bargain on nine out of 10 items,” Beck said in a press release. “Everyone could see this strike coming from miles away and the Premier still did nothing to prevent it.

“Other provinces like Ontario and British Columbia worked collaboratively with teachers to avoid strikes. It didn’t have to come to this.”

NDP Education Critic Matt Love said addressing classroom size and complexity would mean more one-on-one time between teachers and students, and more mental health supports.