School support staff reach tentative deal with gov’t

A school strike has been avoided as B.C. education support workers reach a tentative deal with the government

Job action by school support staff has been avoided as CUPE reached a tentative deal with the B.C. government on Wednesday, September 18.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents more than 27,000 education workers in B.C.’s K-12 education system, had been in negotiations with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) since Monday.

The talks came after CUPE issued a strike mandate in April, and amid concerns of job action by education support workers, who include education assistants, clerical staff, trades, aboriginal workers, youth and family workers, custodians and bus drivers.

The tentative deal reached on Wednesday includes a one per cent wage increase on July 1, 2013, a two per cent increase on February 1, 2014, and a 0.5 per cent increase on May 1, 2014.

“CUPE BC’s 27,000 education workers are vital to keeping our schools clean, safe and inclusive,” said CUPE BC President Mark Hancock. “I want to thank all 85,000 of our members across the province, and our K-12 members in particular, for their solidarity. It’s only because we held together that we were able to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract, despite demands for concessions from the government.”

Both sides must still ratify the tentative pact, with voting dates to be announced.

However, under the provincial government’s Cooperative Gains Mandate, the 3.5 per cent wage increase for school support workers has to come out of existing school district budgets.

School District 5 board chair Frank Lento said that is no easy task.

“It will be difficult, but we are obligated to our support workers,” he said. “We can find little bits here and there.”

Lento said the board of trustees and the district’s secretary treasurer have a scheduled committee meeting on Monday where they will discuss the new budget requirement.

“Our task is ahead of us now,” he said. “These unfunded demands inevitably will make us sacrifice something elsewhere.

“I’m happy and I’m sad. I’m happy for our employees, that there is an agreement; sad that there is inevitably going to be some sacrifices in other areas.”

Lento said he is relieved that job action by CUPE members was avoided.

“I’m grateful that there is an agreement. It’s a lot better than having people on the picket line.”