STF and province agree to enter binding arbitration in ongoing dispute

Daily Herald File Photo STF President Samantha Becotte

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) has agreed to participate in binding arbitration for the issues of wages and class complexity-accountability framework.

The STF announced the decision on Friday after consulting with members this week.

“It is unfortunate that despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement at the bargaining table,” STF President Samantha Becotte told media on Friday. “However, the joint submission with the GTBC for binding arbitration provides an opportunity for progress on the issue of classroom complexity. in order to address the needs of Saskatchewan students.

“This has been a challenging school year, but teachers have always put the needs of all of their current students and future students first,” she added.

“Their support and strength have inspired us through this bargaining process.”

Becotte went on to thank parents, caregivers, students, community groups and businesses for their support through this process.

“The belief of the wider community and the work of teachers and the value of publicly funded education has encouraged and sustained this work.”

Because of this decision the current province wide work-to-rule sanction, which began Monday, ceased at 4 p.m. Friday. There will be no further sanctions while the arbitration process takes place.

Based on numerous member consultations throughout the week, approximately three-quarters of members believe binding arbitration is the best path forward. This was consistent throughout all consultations.

“Consultation with members took place during the last five days and it included an online town hall meeting which was attended by more than 5,700 teachers, a member survey and meetings with various internal advisory groups,” Becotte explained.

When the TBC declared a bargaining impasse on June 5, the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) offered binding arbitration on the issues of wages and the accountability framework, a proposal that was rejected by the TBC because it did not include class complexity.

That proposal was revised to include class complexity-accountability framework and wages, which aligned with teachers’ position. The TBC has confirmation from the GTBC that the agreed-upon language for the joint submission would request binding arbitration for “wages and class complexity-accountability framework.”

Becotte said written confirmation from the GTBC that the phrase “class complexity” would be added to the “accountability framework” item, which was already included in the government’s binding arbitration offer, helped turn the tide.

So did the respect the STF has for its members and their input, which she said showed significant support for binding arbitration under the new terms.

“The decision to participate in binding arbitration means STF members will not vote on a collective agreement,” according to an STF news release issued Friday. “The arbitrator’s award (decision) on the two issues under arbitration is legally binding and it will be incorporated into the final provincial collective bargaining agreement along with all other matters agreed to during negotiations.”

In March, the TBC had proposed binding arbitration on class size and complexity only, but that offer was rejected by the GTBC.

Next steps include the appointment of a mutually agreed upon arbitrator, the availability of which will determine how soon a hearing can be held, the release continued.

A hearing usually takes place over a few days, during which each side will present “arguments, rationale and documentation to support their position.”

The end results may take several months, the release noted, and is delivered through a written report. In her press conference, Becotte said that it could take anywhere from six to eight months to complete the process.

“A lot of it depends on the availability of an arbitrator,” Becotte said. “Often arbitration processes can last anywhere from six to eight months. It could potentially be longer, could potentially be shorter, but we would look in that kind of approximate timeline before we get a ruling or decision from an arbitrator.”

Graduations and end of school year activities are starting across the province. With no sanctions during the arbitration process, Becotte explained teachers will have to make a personal decision about whether to participate.

“We won’t have any further sanctions, although those extra opportunities are provided through teachers, voluntary services and so that will be up to individual teachers, whether those are services that they want to continue to provide in their school community,” she said.

She added that she respects STF memberships personal decisions in evaluating whether they do these activities. While there will be no further sanctions, Becotte said she’s heard “lots of conversations” from teachers questioning whether they can add any voluntary services on top of their ever-increasing workload

“I think that teachers will be looking at whether they can add anything extra on top of what they’re currently trying to manage within their classrooms,” she said.

Both the STF in the past week and the government after an original offer of arbitration in March have made moves to reach this consensus on arbitration. When asked what changed the government’s position in her mind she said it was a better question for Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill.

The STF originally rejected arbitration. Becotte said that changed after the GTBC agreed to change the language of the framework.

“We felt it was too narrow of a scope and it wouldn’t allow us the opportunity to fully present the issues of classroom complexity and have a ruling on those working conditions for teachers as well as students learning conditions,” she explained. “We now have that written confirmation that classroom complexity will be an item that will go forward.”

The STF membership has previously rejected two contract offers from the provincial government, the first by more than 90 per cent of STF members, and the second by a narrower margin of 55 per cent.

The latest offer included the creation of a special task force on classroom complexity and language referencing an accountability framework signed by the STF, Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) and provincial government and attached to the collective bargaining agreement as a memorandum of understanding.

The offer also added an extra $18 million per year to the multi-year funding agreement (MFA) signed by the government and the SSBA in March. The MFA included a budget of $356.6 million, with $40.7 million earmarked for “classroom supports,” and $4.9 million for pilot programs.

Consensus was that none of it went far enough to adequately address issues related to class size and complexity, a sticking point since the first bargaining meeting began nearly a year ago.

In a statement emailed to the Daily Herald, Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill said that he was pleased that teachers in Saskatchewan have directed the STF leadership to agree to binding arbitration.

“Binding arbitration will provide predictability in the lives of students, families, and teachers as the school year comes to an end, all while allowing for a path to the finalization of a new provincial collective agreement. Once again, I would like to thank families, students, and teachers for their patience throughout this process,” Cockrill said.