Teachers' union publicizes bargaining process as it negotiates new contract

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation is giving the public a look at the bargaining table.

Updates to be posted to Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation website

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation has announced it will post updates on its website after each negotiating session with the provincial government. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) is giving the public a look at the bargaining table.

The union, which represents more than 13,500 educators, plans to post on its website after each session as it negotiates with the government.

The current STF contract expires at the end of August and the organization presented the first of its proposals last week.

STF President Patrick Maze said he hopes to make the process transparent to teachers and families who send their kids to Saskatchewan schools.

"We want to involve our members more in the process and we also think it's important that the public has a bit of a window into how teacher negotiations are going and how our classrooms are being supported in the province," Maze said.

Typically, members don't receive any updates until they are presented with a tentative agreement that requires ratification.

Maze said he hopes the move will put pressure on the government to come to the table with fair proposals.

"It makes both sides kind of look in the mirror and think, is what we're asking for, what we're proposing, reasonable?" said Maze. "And if it's not then you know that you're going to be called to task either through the workforce of the teachers or through the public.

"It's their children and grandchildren that are in our classrooms and they want to know that those classrooms are properly supported."

STF President Patrick Maze says he wants the process to be transparent to teachers and the public. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Chair of the government-trustee bargaining committee Don Hoium represents the government during bargaining and says making the information public is a departure from the confidential approach they usually follow.

"It's not a traditional model for collective bargaining so it's a departure from what has occurred in the past, but it is something we will work with and try to reach a mutually agreeable contract," Hoium said.

Hoium said the new system will be a learning experience for both sides.

Education Minister Gord Wyant denied a request for an interview, but emailed a statement to CBC News.

"As Minister, I want to see the bargaining process occur in good faith and our focus remains on negotiating a fair contract," Wyant said.

Maze said the government did not have its first offer ready at last week's meeting. He said he expects that negotiations will resume in late August.

The STF is asking for smaller class sizes, a three-year agreement with a two per cent salary increase in 2019-20, a three per cent increase in 2020-21 and a three per cent increase in 2021-22 and a contract of employment for substitute teachers.

Expert says complete transparency 'unusual'

Shelagh Campbell, an associate professor at the University of Regina who studies human resources, said usually both parties agree to keep discussions private and not to talk to the media.

Campbell said confidential meetings allow both sides to be creative and float new ideas.

"It can present sort of an undue influence on the negotiating process. It's done behind closed doors so that people can be frank, can feel like they can be honest with each other and work towards a good deal." 

Campbell said the union publicizing bargaining details could harm its relationship with the government.

She said if one side airs grievances during the process, it is usually a sign that something isn't going well. She said she's never heard of a case where one side agreed to put out a full report of ongoing negotiations.

"It is unusual," said Campbell. "Sometimes, out of frustration, one or the other party will go to the media — particularly when talks have broken down — and speak to the media about the reasonableness of their proposal.

"Then often they'll be accused of bargaining in the the media."


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