Union and provincial government relations have never been more strained and unfortunately each side is using the workers as pawns. 

It has been well documented where Jason Kenney and his Alberta government’s mutual love (sarcasm off) with provincial unions is unprecedented, but in Saskatchewan, government/union relations are not a lot better.

There’s quickly growing tension between the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) and the Saskatchewan Provincial Government in negotiations. The STF say the issue is classroom size/teacher/student ratio while the Sask. government is stating the STF won’t come to the negotiating table. 

As part of the bargaining process, the union told its members to refrain from any outside-the-classroom hours activity. To be specific: 15 minutes before and after working hours. This will go into effect starting March 13.

The teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place emotionally.  It all emphasizes the importance of the public relations battle.

What is the goal for each side? Is it strictly financial or the desire to get more teachers into the system on the STF’s part?  Is it an opportunity for the government to strike a cheap deal while there’s a mistrust/dislike out there of unions with all the publicity generated by the Unifor--Federated Co-op situation? 

The strategy is clear by the negotiators: attack the most vulnerable weaknesses (non-paid extra programs vs. an essential service) to get what the other wants.

Everyone forgets the two groups affected the most: the students and the teachers themselves. Not the teachers/union STF members, the individuals, the human beings. You remember the teachers, actual people: your friends, your neighbours, your child’s science/debate/music club leader, guidance counsellor, sports coach or even the person in charge of a “school” breakfast program. 

The government wants to save money on education budgets as a better bottom line is an easy sell in a provincial election year). 

The union wants to score more money/higher union dues and more permanent positions because of bulging classroom sizes (thus strengthening their organization’s coffers).

Everyone forgets the mental anguish on the individuals themselves.  Take for example the passive aggressive tactic of Saskatchewan’s Education Minister Gordon Wyant declaring to the media that the teachers not only walked away from the bargaining table and conciliation but “they are walking away from the kids.”

Obvious guilt trip. 

The government uses guilt and shame to dare the teachers to follow through on job action. When an employer banks on the fact that many teachers are passionate about their jobs and of course their extra curricular activities such pre- and after school programs, the teachers will want to settle fast i.e. accept the predictable lowball government first offer which the union heads hate.

Make no mistake, teachers love to teach and help. Yes, there are bad eggs out there, like there is anywhere. Some people in the profession are just there to collect the paycheque and are more than happy to follow the union’s direction for job action. But for many, especially in the rural areas where everybody knows everybody, job action and the thought of not doing their duty is hurting them psychologically.

Imagine putting a bunch of work into something for months and then telling the children who you have working with that it has been all for naught or telling an excited  7 year old there won’t be Lego building after school?

Teachers are nurturing people by nature. While some may argue that if they cared so much about the students, teachers would defy the union and continue on status quo, there is the pressure of the union to follow protocol and not risk getting into trouble. Unions can be a protection against employers which take advantage of non protected individuals. 

Like governments, unions want to maximize their profits.

Critics will say teachers are overpaid (as compared to their own situations), get weeks of holidays and perks heaped upon them, consider the passion it takes in want to be thoroughly prepared to teach X- number of children simultaneously, deal with all the different personalities of the students, their parents and while being sensitive to familial situations, education is not a leave-at-the-office profession. 

There is a lot of emotion, a lot of highs and lows emotionally and when you have a strike situation where your union is telling you to follow protocol and your employer is telling the media that you are walking away from those who you are serving… that’s emotional warfare.

Those in the province to the west can expect the same. Alberta teachers can legally take some sort of strike action in September. Unions will take the summer to get organized. Teachers doing an all out wildcat strike right now doesn’t create good optics but there is real disdain for Jason Kenney and his budget. 

Once the Alberta provincial budget is officially passed, school boards will know where their budgets are at, and if it is that ugly…. who knows, if not an all out strike, students, parents and the government will get a lesson in what teacher’s volunteer school participation entails. 

Ryan Dahlman is the managing editor of the Prairie Post East and West.

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