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Sask. Teachers' Federation sending offer to a vote 'tactical move': labour scholar


Teachers have three weeks to consider how they’ll vote on an offer from the provincial bargaining committee. But where does the dispute go next?

The offer on the table for a membership vote is a three-year agreement with an eight per cent salary increase.

Both the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and the government agreed to send the deal to a vote from teachers after two days of negotiations.

“We'll be presenting those facts to members and allowing them the opportunity to weigh the benefits and consequences or potential risks of voting in favour or voting against and come to an informed decision on their own,” STF President Samantha Becotte said at a press conference Thursday.

“I certainly hope that the STF membership takes a serious opportunity to look at what's on the table and make a decision as to what's going to be best for students,” Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill said following question period Thursday.

The offer is missing major movement on class size and complexity, although it does include a line about a Memorandum of Understanding the government said will help better direct education funding and give teachers more say.

Charles Smith is an associate political studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s St. Thomas More College. He said it makes sense for the STF to put the ‘final offer’ to a vote, even if the result is not guaranteed.

“I think it’s a gamble, but also an important part of the process to let the membership have its voice heard,” Smith said. “Given where we are, at this point let the membership decide and then we go from there.”

Smith called it a “tactical move” given how long the dispute has been going on, and with the end of the school year looming.

“The government might be thinking the membership is fatigued, that the membership actually supports a deal like this given some of the policies they’ve brought out outside of the collective bargaining framework, they might have felt they’ve reached that threshold,” Smith said. “The union might be seeing something opposite.”

Despite putting the possible deal to a vote, the STF stopped short of pointing teachers on how to vote.

“The fact that [the STF] is not endorsing or supporting this agreement with regards to the membership vote says to me they’re not happy,” Smith said.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re bringing forward a final offer, not a real, good-faith tentative agreement where both sides have agreed to the items within,” Becotte said. “After two days of seeing little to no movement, we felt it was time to take their final offer and have members take a look at it and provide their voice within the process.”

“If it isn’t ratified, there is potential of continued action,” Becotte added.

Smith said lingering issues around class size and complexity will still be waiting in the next round of bargaining, even if teachers do vote in favour.

“Assuming it was accepted, this is a three year contract, which means they're going to be back at the bargaining table sooner rather than later and these issues aren't going to go away,” Smith said. “In fact, they might even get more complex."

Smith said there are three possible scenarios from the vote: a resounding yes, a result Smith said would be a surprise, a resounding no, or a closer vote split.

“That leaves open a lot of different questions if we don’t see those numbers,” “At the end of the day, I think what people want is to get back to a classroom without disruptions where it's properly funded and recognized as being a classroom that's more complex today than it's ever been. I’m not sure we get there in the vote in May.”

“I think this is the best the union thought it could get, at this moment,” Smith added.

Another lingering element outside of the teacher vote is mistrust between the STF and the government, something Smith dates back to a controversial provincial advertising campaign that made headlines in summer 2023.

“That to me suggested there was a poison pill in the negotiations right at the beginning, and it’s only gone downhill from there,” Smith said. “All of the bad blood that’s come about, assuming the government gets re-elected, it’s going to be similar players at the table dealing with the same issues, so we have to be conscious of that.”

Cockrill said Thursday he’s committed to “building relationships” in the sector with teachers, parents, and more.

“Bargaining is tough, there’s not a lot of winners when it comes to bargaining,” Cockrill said. “I think nobody has lost more throughout this whole process than our kids in this province.”

Regardless of how teachers vote, the dispute will likely be a key issue during the upcoming provincial election in the fall.

The STF’s approximately 13,500 members will vote on the offer May 8 and 9. Top Stories

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