Conciliation was never going to solve this

Column: 
February 20, 2020

Imagine my surprise when word came out that the conciliation process had basically failed. If you deduced sarcasm there, you win the prize.

Conciliation might work if the parties were prepared to live up to the dictionary description of conciliatory, which is calculated to win over, soothe or reconcile. In other words, if the two participants would only have had a minor disagreement and ultimately wanted to get to the same place, there might be a chance.

Folks, let’s be honest here. The fact is the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee and the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee were, and still are, some distance apart and so common ground seems naively optimistic at this point.

Let’s not forget we have been at this since May in one form or another. At this point, as the sides ponder future strategies, the notion of some sort of job action is hardly remote anymore. From the outset, this has been like a game of chess with one side coming out with what they are trying to sell to themselves; the other participants and yes, to some degree; the court of public opinion as well.

So, as we move along (or not), I don’t have to tell you who the pawns are in this venture. Yes, it would be the students.

Now, it’s not lost on me that I am employed by one of the two antagonists in all this (the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation) and thankfully while I’m not directly involved in any way, it still bemuses and frustrates me why this has to be played out in such a fashion.

Through the course of a year–and in my case, several years now–one undeniable truism always comes to the fore. Teachers in this province are doing a wonderful job wherever their classroom might be. That’s not me necessarily advocating for an extra one percent on grid or whatever; it’s just a fact. This is hardly my own words, but it rings true that education can’t be thought of as merely an expense item but an investment in the future. Surely we could agree on that if we were to let our guard down.

Those folks who enter the teaching profession know going in that they are not going to have to worry about what is the best option for their offshore banking activities. To ask for just slightly above the cost of living is hardly unreasonable, especially when you consider the recent history of these provincial collective bargaining negotiations–let alone all the other factors that teachers face.

The whole matter of class size and composition seems to be the line in the sand for both sides with little general interest in movement from the government. There needs to be a will to figure this out.

Ironically, talk to people at the STF building and there is a general consensus that those folks who have been dispatched by the government to handle the negotiations are fair and reasonable. The reality though, is that they are several rungs removed from those who will ultimately sign off on this.

So as simplistic as it might sound to the unwashed like myself, you have to wonder if at some point the people who really need to be at the table might find their way there. Or, would that be seen as blowing their cover or bowing to those nasty “union” types.

The bottom line is until these folks actually show some initiative in all of this, we’re left with window-dressing scenarios like conciliation. How is that working for you?