Creighton teachers hit the picket line Tuesday, part of a province-wide strike - the latest stage of a long and fraught battle with the Saskatchewan government over staff and student resources.
Members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) gathered in locations across the province Jan. 16, including in Creighton, where dozens of Creighton Community School teachers and STF members gathered at Creighton Avenue near the Prospector Inn throughout the afternoon.
Creighton Community School teacher Kirsten Fritsch is one of the STF’s executive members and led the local group’s presence at the protest Jan. 16.
"We are standing today in solidarity with teachers across the province who experience a number of complex classroom issues that the Saskatchewan government has failed to address, year after year," said Fritsch, with horns honking in approval from drivers passing the protest.
"Education has been cut year after year. We do agree with the Saskatchewan government in that some of these decisions, like classroom size and complexity, belong at a local level, but by underfunding education and cutting local budgets, they have left local divisions without the option to address these complexities."
Members of other local unions, including the United Steelworkers Locals 7106 and 9338 and members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 228, came out to join STF members in solidarity.
"Teachers have been sounding the alarm for a number of years now and we've decided we're ready to make a stand against the government and the government/trustee bargaining committee," said Fritsch.
STF president Samantha Becotte and Canadian Teachers’ Federation president Heidi Yetman went to the Legislature Building in Regina to personally deliver letters from teachers to Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan education minister Jeremy Cockrill Tuesday. The STF also called on members of the public, including parents and students, to write letters to Moe demanding an increase in resources.
“Despite our best efforts to engage in meaningful and authentic negotiations with the provincial government, it has become apparent that our concerns are not being adequately addressed,” reads a statement from the Creighton Local Teachers’ Association.
“We are seeking your support and solidarity. This strike is a collective plea for the future of our students and the publicly funded provincial education system as a whole.”
In Creighton, classes at Creighton Community School were cancelled for the day, along with transportation to and from school and all after-school or extracurricular activities.
“As a school division, we emphasize the significance of the collective bargaining process, prioritizing the safety of our students. We are dedicated to keeping parents, caregivers and families informed about any future job actions and changes to school operations,” reads a statement from Creighton School Division director of education Steve Lytwyn issued Jan. 11 after the strike call went out. The statement was shared on Creighton Community School’s website and social media pages.
“Ongoing communication will be delivered through emails from the school via School Messenger, updates on our division and school websites and our school’s Facebook account.”
In a statement released Jan. 11 announcing the union’s intent to strike - exceeding the province’s legal requirement of two days’ notice ahead of job action - Becotte said ongoing issues with Saskatchewan education and a lack of movement from the province in negotiations are prime reasons for the strike. Discussions on reducing class sizes, increasing workloads on teachers and class complexity - compounding issues relating to lack of supplies and resource funding - have gone nowhere.
The STF has worked without a new contract since their last one lapsed last year and the union has not ruled out further job actions if talks don’t move ahead.
“The last thing any teacher wants is for negotiations to impact the school year, so we are exhausting every possible option to get government back to the table,” said Becotte.
“At every turn, teachers have said that committees are getting us nowhere on these urgent issues and a new deal must include items to address class size and complexity. The government remains intransigent, even after conciliation. This is not bargaining; they are making decisions based on politics and student learning is suffering for it.”
Fritsch said local response from people in Creighton had been positive from both striking STF members and from the public - people even dropped off snacks for the group, who protested outside in shifts on a day where temperatures dropped down past minus-20 Celsius.
"Morale has been great. People have been out in shifts, everybody's dressed up warm. We had treats delivered to us by families, by locals. We had about 65 people here at lunch, including support staff from Creighton Community School, and we're very grateful for that show of solidarity."
Fritsch said the goal of the protests is to bring the province back to the table and make them willing to negotiate, rather than stonewalling.
"The desired outcome is to get back to the negotiating table with a government/trustee bargaining committee who has a new mandate to actually bargain with teachers, instead of giving us their first and final offer, then plastering billboards all over the province," she said.
"Teachers would rather be in their classrooms today, doing what we do best - teaching. We've been backed into this corner and this is all we've been left with to deal with our situation at hand."