A strike of K-12 school support workers has been avoided this week with the development of a new provincial framework agreement; however, union members still have to ratify it, and local school boards will have to pay for its promised salary increases.
The deal announced just before midnight on Wednesday, Sept. 18, calls for a 3.5 per cent wage increase for support staff over two years.
The agreement says K-12 school support workers, covered under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), will receive a one per cent wage increase retroactive to July 1, 2013, a two per cent increase on Feb. 1, 2014 and a 0.5 per cent increase on May 1, 2014.
When Coast Reporter called local CUPE 801 president Carolyn Smith for comment Thursday morning, she was on her way into a presidents’ council meeting to discuss the deal and the union’s response.
“I don’t really know all the details about it yet, only what I’ve heard on the news,” she said. “In this meeting we’re going to hear about what the deal is and how we move forward to get it ratified.”
She couldn’t say if the nearly 200 local K-12 workers would accept the deal, but she said it looked on the surface to be the likely outcome.
As for local school boards having to foot the bill for the wage increase under the government’s cooperative gains mandate, Smith noted, “we were hoping that wouldn’t be the case.”
The increase amounts to about $179,000 more for wages this year and about $305,000 next year in School District No. 46 (SD46).
SD46 board chair Silas White said the local board put money aside to pay for the increase this year, so it won’t impact budgets, but finding the money to pay for wage increases going forward could be troublesome.
“The big challenge will be integrating it into our budget for the next year,” he said. “I think elsewhere in the B.C. public sector the province can more centrally find savings, but when you have over 90 per cent of the money in K-12 education going out to public boards, it’s really difficult for this cooperative gains mandate to work. That’s why boards, including ours, have been quite upset that it’s been expected of us.”
White was one of two trustee representatives involved in provincial bargaining. He said local boards had to agree to fund the union’s wage increase in order to avoid a strike.
“It was quite down to the wire and it was clear we had to step up and find the funding ourselves. We were quite willing to do that because at the end of the day our support staff workers in our district deserve an increase similar to the rest of the public sector,” White said.
Superintendent of Schools Patrick Bocking said he was “very pleased” a tentative agreement was reached this week and that there would be “no disruption of classes.”