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CUPE, SD5 strike deal

Local education support staff have signed an agreement with Southeast Kootenay district

School District 5 and B.C. education support staff have signed a collective agreement just in time for the Christmas vacation.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4165 and the School District 5 board have come to an agreement for a 3.5 per cent wage increase and other labour arrangements this week.

CUPE represents education assistants, clerical staff, trades, aboriginal workers, youth and family workers, custodians and bus drivers.

The finalized agreement was narrowly voted in by CUPE members. A tentative deal made on Dec. 8 was defeated by the membership, said CUPE national representative Keith Nielson.

"Then, this past week, we went back to the table, negotiated a little more and felt we had enough of a settlement to take back to our membership who voted on Tuesday and Wednesday," said Nielson.

The collective agreement, which runs until June 30, 2014, was ratified with 60 per cent of Local 4165 members in favour.

"60 per cent acceptance isn't a high acceptance rate. 40 per cent of the membership are still unhappy," said Nielson. "A lot of our members weren't happy with what came out of the provincial framework but chose to accept it."

In September, CUPE negotiations with the B.C. government through the B.C. Public School Employers' Association brought about a 3.5 per cent wage increase between July 2013 and May 2014.

"Along with that provincial framework, the members vote on what's happened at the local table and the provincial framework at one time," said Nielson.

The local agreement includes opportunities for educational assistants to move around within the first month of the school year.

"That was an important issue that has been on bargaining tables for the past few years. Our members are pleased with that," said Nielson.

The CUPE Local 4165 was on strike alert before reaching the agreement.

"If the vote would have been defeated again, we would be looking at strike action in January. That would have been the next step for the Local to take," said Nielson.

School District 5 board chair Frank Lento is relieved it didn't come to that.

"We are absolutely thrilled there won't be a labour dispute that would impact our communities and our kids and families," said Lento.

Lento said he was impressed by the hard work put in by both sides at the bargaining table in the past weeks.

The school district has been placed in a difficult position by the CUPE wage increase Lento said was imposed by the province.

"We were forced with a 3.5 per cent increase that the province negotiated. We were obligated to come up with a savings plan, which we have submitted to the ministry for their approval," he said.

But it is a wage increase CUPE staff deserve, he added.

"We know that our CUPE members, each and every one of them, deserve a fair wage increase," said Lento.

"If our teachers in the districts are the heart of our schools, then our CUPE members are the soul. They are the unsung heroes. The board cares about them, and each and every one of them, they all take their job seriously and they really care about their communities."