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Teachers bring pickets to Legislature on first day of session

A wave of south Saskatchewan teachers met returning MLAs at the Legislature on Monday in the latest in a series of escalating Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) job actions.

Roughly 3,5000 teachers attended Monday’s rotating strike at the Legislature, according to the STF. Teachers from Regina Public Schools, Regina Catholic Schools, Prairie South School Division, Holy Family Catholic School Division, South East Cornerstone School Division, as well as teachers from Conseil des écoles fransaskoises and the Saskatchewan Distance Learning Centre who work within those boundaries were on the line.

“Students, families and teachers are in this situation because this government simply will not listen,” STF President Samantha Becotte said in a press release. “For years, they have not listened to parents, teachers, trustees and other experts in the education sector who have been raising alarm bells about underfunding. Today, we bring those concerns to their doorstep. Enough is enough.”

Poor weather conditions and heavy snowfall prevented some teachers from travelling to the provincial capital for the strike. Becotte said those who couldn’t make the trip took part in alternative advocacy actions, including calling and emailing government to highlight the concerns of teachers.

“We are very grateful for the number of teachers and supporters who were able to make it to the Legislative Building this morning as MLAs returned for the spring session,” she said.

“I also thank the striking teachers and supporters who are spending the day contacting government officials from other locations, since they couldn’t get to Regina safely after the snowstorm. The level of support we’ve seen is a sign to teachers across the province that Saskatchewan people share our goal of achieving long-term funding commitments that will improve the classroom experience for students. It is a clear signal to government that we are united, we are supported and we are not backing down.”

The STF escalated job action following a breakdown in talks with the provincial government and school board trustee bargaining committee. Monday also marked the final day of a five-day countdown to further escalation.

Becotte said that if government does not provide their bargaining committee a new mandate to bargain on issues such as class size and complexity, teachers will be withdrawing all extracurricular supports on March 5 and 6.

Inside the Legislature, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill told MLAs the government remains ready to bargain at any time, but argued union leadership is not ready to come to the table.

“We’ve made movement on several of the STF leadership’s demands,” Cockrill told MLAs in the Assembly. “Annualization of class size, complexity funding? We’ve offered that. Managing their own dental plan? We’ve offered that. Annualization of two pilot projects, Mr. Speaker? We’ve offered that, and the same salary deal … that MLAs get that STF asked for? We’ve offered that. Mr. Speaker, it’s time for union leadership to get back to the bargaining table.”

On Saturday, the STF announced a one-day withdrawal of noon-hour supervision that will take place on Tuesday, March 5 at locations throughout the province.

This withdrawal includes PAATA members in the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division.

Along with Prince Albert schools, all schools in the Chinook School Division, Horizon School Division, Northern Lights School Division, Northwest School Division, Prairie Spirit School Division, Prairie Valley School Division, and Sun West School Division be affected.

Teachers are also set for a provincewide withdrawal of extracurricular activities on Tuesday and Wednesday. The provincewide withdrawal of extracurricular activities will begin with two full days on Tuesday, March 5 and Wednesday, March 6. This action means the withdrawal of all voluntary services involved in the organization, supervision and facilitation of activities, including athletics, non-curricular arts, clubs, field trips, student travel and graduation preparations.

Monday will mark the fourth day of rotating strikes since January, and the sixth consecutive day of job action since Feb. 26.

As of Friday, teachers have performed two days of provincewide strikes, six withdrawals of noon-hour supervision and two days refusing to facilitate extracurricular activities.

The Daily Herald contacted the Ministry of Education asking for an interview about the latest STF job action on Thursday of last week. In response, the Ministry sent a statement arguing that STF leadership were choosing job action over getting a deal done.

“The Government Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC) extended invitations every day last week to the STF to come back to the bargaining table, where negotiators had been waiting and were ready to engage in meaningful discussions,” the statement reads. “The government has moved on a number of items that the STF asked for, including a renewed salary mandate and workplace safety enhancements. The STF has refused to move off their initial proposals, including a 23.4 per cent salary increase.

“Outside of bargaining, government has proposed an agreement with the STF to annualize the $53.1 million in additional funding for class size and complexity. Since October, the STF has been at the bargaining table for a total of 30 minutes. Teachers and students should be in the classroom, and the teachers’ union should be at the bargaining table.”

-With files from Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald