Much of the information presented at the information session is confidential, so I won’t be getting into details (teachers who want details should visit the “For Members” section of the STF website – the general public can just wait for someone in government to leak it to John Gormley). I just wanted to share my thoughts on the whole affair.
With all due respect to the gains that the bargaining team made, I didn’t strike for three days for orthodontics. When the STF presented their goals for this contract at the PAATA convention last spring, they were that the contract would be fair, equitable, and affirm the worth of teachers. Add to those the repeated statement that the contract be acceptable to all teachers, and there’s a huge problem with the contract being offered by the government.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not entirely unhappy with what has been negotiated. I see significant gains in some areas, and I’m one of the lucky few at Step 10 this year that will benefit enormously from the collapse of Step 15. If the contract is approved, my salary next year will be an increase of about $12,000 over what I made last year under the old contract. So evidently, my complaints are not all about monetary compensation, either. So let’s take a look at each of the three stated goals of the STF in this round of negotiations:
At the end of the three years of the contract, Saskatchewan teachers will have seen an average increase that doesn’t match cost of living increases in Saskatchewan. In terms of purchasing power, the average teacher will be worse off at the end of this contract that they are presently. Not to mention that we will have once again fallen behind teachers in other Western Canadian jurisdictions.
I had an interesting conversation with the pastor that First Baptist Church Prince Albert just called to the senior pastor position. He and his wife and family will be moving to Prince Albert from Sherwood Park, Alberta and have done a comparison on the cost of living between the two communities. Now keep in mind that Sherwood Park is a city of 60,000 on the edge of Edmonton, one of the costliest places to live in Alberta according to the Alberta Spatial Price Survey. This pastor is worried that with the higher cost of gas, groceries, and the provincial sales tax, he might be taking a financial hit by moving here.
The government/trustee bargaining committee has been telling us we can’t compare our cost of living to Alberta in order to determine salary, but that’s evidently false. Accepting this agreement will, at the end of the three years, put us even farther behind the western Canadian provincial average of teachers’ salaries than we are now, all the while seeing the same costs of living as those in Alberta.
Because of the uneven application of the increases in the negotiated agreement, it creates divisions between teachers at different points in their careers. According to the tables given to us by the STF, beginning teachers will see the highest percentage increases, with average increases diminishing the longer a teacher has been in the profession. And while I understand the reasoning behind the split (in order to even out the stepping increases), the divisive tactic smacks of the divide-and-conquer mentality this government has used in other public sector union negotiations.
Affirms the worth of teachers
As noted in Section 3 of the Mediator’s report (available here from the Government’s website): “[I]t would be inappropriate […] to attempt to quantify a further salary increase to affirm the work of teachers or in recognition of their special status.” So, one of the stated goals printed on every bargaining update sent to every teacher, was completely disregarded in crafting this tentative agreement. On purpose.
Acceptable to all teachers
Well, on this one, we’ll have to wait and see until September 20th, but whether it passes or not, I think you’d have to “Bill Clinton” the definition of “all” in order to make it fit here.
I’m conflicted about how to vote. On the one hand, I don’t think that the government is prepared to offer much more in the way of resources if we returned to the table after rejecting this offer. We seem to have squeezed all the blood from that stone. On the other hand, an historic three days of strike should result in an agreement more than halfway towards what teachers’ demands were. Also, I don’t want to reward the government’s negotiating tactics (including tax-payer funded attack ads on teachers), and its poor faith bargaining, by rolling over and accepting what they’re handing out. It’s obvious this government cares very little about public sector labour, and I think ultimately, our vote in November is probably more important than the one on September 20th. If the tentative agreement passes, I think we suck up our losses, and then use the new Western Canadian Provincial Average clause as our big stick in the next round. If it’s defeated, I would like to see the STF use more sanctions involving our extra-curricular activities. After all, we can’t be legislated back to volunteer service! Pass or fail, this is easily the most debated tentative contract that I’ve seen. I hope that at the very least, teachers take a larger interest in attending their local area meetings and sending resolutions to Spring Council for consideration. The political awakening of 12,000 teachers may be upon us, and the Sask Party should be wary of how they treat the profession in the future, regardless of the outcome of the vote.