In a recent column on teacher local collective bargaining, Murray Mandryk of the Regina Leader-Post alleges that teacher contracts are costing the province hundreds of millions of dollars and that school boards are being too generous to teachers due to “cozy relationships” between the two. It is important to be clear about how teacher collective bargaining works.
In Saskatchewan, it is a formal process of negotiations that is governed by legislation. Teachers, government and school divisions engage in bargaining in order to reach a legal contract. Bargaining takes place over many weeks or even months of time. Negotiations sometimes break down. But collective bargaining is taken seriously by everyone in the education sector, as the results directly impact teaching and learning.
There is nothing cozy, informal or offhand about the way it is conducted. It is wrong to imply that local collective agreements are too generous because school division administrators formerly worked as classroom teachers. The job of the school board negotiating team is to make a deal that fits with the board’s finances. The job of the local teacher association is to get an agreement that supports teachers in doing their jobs.
Sometimes, the interests of both sides are aligned–this makes sense after all, as everyone in the sector is working for the good of students. Mr. Mandryk argues that local collective agreements have only recently become an expression of local autonomy. On the contrary, they have always been an expression of local autonomy and local educational contexts. Local collective bargaining for teachers has existed in Saskatchewan since 1949, long before provincewide bargaining for salaries was implemented in 1973.
When the province changed to a two-tiered system in 1973, local bargaining was kept as part of the model. The government recognized that a one-size-fits-all solution would not be suited to a province where every school and community has its own challenges and opportunities. The realities of northern Saskatchewan are not the realities of Regina, just as the community of Turtleford is not the same as Estevan. The nature of each agreement differs based on the communities the school board and teachers serve.
Mr. Mandryk writes that local agreements feature approximately $140 million in costs. Once again, this misrepresents the truth. Local agreements provide for things such as bereavement leave, which is accessed only when an immediate family member dies. Clearly, not all teachers will use this provision in a given year. Thus, the cost of local agreements varies from year to year and would never be $140 million. That figure represents an overall liability, not an actual cost.
Mr. Mandryk notes that “while significant prep time is absolutely necessary for, say, high school teachers with large classes in cities, it’s less necessary for, say, elementary teachers in rural settings with smaller classes.” Ironically, the situation he describes is exactly how prep time is currently allocated in local agreements.
Collective bargaining is a complex issue. As the courts have recently recognized, it is also a constitutional right that all those involved must approach respectfully.
In bargaining, the teachers of Saskatchewan work hard to maintain productive and professional relationships. We have a vision of working with others to serve the common good of everyone in education and will continue to follow this vision in all that we do as professionals.