Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Pat Maze speaks in Saskatoon in 2018.
Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
In a move it hopes will secure a better deal for teachers and win public support for education funding, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is planning to break with tradition and make details of its contract talks sessions public.STF President Pat Maze said transparent negotiations — the union plans to post detailed updates on its website after each session — should stop both sides from putting forward proposals that might be deemed unreasonable by the public.“The public deserves to know where each side falls, who is negotiating for what and what’s important to each side,” Maze said, adding that is because teachers’ conditions of employment, such as class size, directly affect the students they teach.“I believe teachers are on the right side of this argument in saying that we want our students to be offered the highest-quality education. And under the current cutbacks (in education funding), that’s just not happening.”The 13,500-member union’s decision comes three months before its current arbitrated contract expires, amid a period of antagonistic relations between teachers and the provincial government, conflict that is largely the result of disagreement over funding.Bargaining between the STF and the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC), which represents the provincial government and the Saskatchewan School Board Association, began earlier this week and is expected to continue for months.GTBC Chair Don Hoium acknowledged that the STF’s plan is “not the traditional approach” and likely to be a “learning experience” for everyone involved. He said he couldn’t comment on how effective it might be for either party.“At the end of the day, we’re still going to work towards a mutually acceptable agreement … We are going to try and pursue the best approach to maintaining good relationships at the table,” Hoium said Friday afternoon in an interview.Maze said it is his understanding that the GTBC is not especially pleased with the STF’s decision.While details of contract talks occasionally leak, most collective bargaining is conducted behind closed doors. That is largely because both sides often have to make difficult compromises, according to a University of Saskatchewan expert in organized labour.Increased transparency could make both union and employer reluctant to make those decisions for fear of seeming weak, Charles Smith said. Taking the “exceptional” step of out detailed updates could also lead to accusations of failing to bargain in good faith, he added.However, he continued, public opinion is particularly crucial in education and the STF is likely trying to keep its membership happy while at the same time getting “out ahead of what they expect will be a hard round of bargaining.”The STF, whose members receive a one per cent raise at the end of their current deal, is expected to open negotiations by asking for an eight per cent raise over three years as well as a method for determining the “appropriate” class size and composition.An arbitration panel rejected a similar proposal regarding classroom size during the last bargaining session.It is not clear what the STF’s proposal would cost taxpayers next year. A one per cent increase in teachers’ salaries is worth about $10 million, while a negotiated deal on class size and composition would almost certainly run into the tens of millions of dollars.Details of the government’s opening offer are not firstname.lastname@example.org/macphersonaRelated