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SD63 parents asked to make arrangements for children as strike looms

CUPE Local 441 members seeking comparable wages to other South Island school districts

Saanich School District parents may have to make alternate arrangements for childcare on Monday due to a looming strike.

The Saanich branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Local 441) has served a 72-hour strike notice to School District 63.

The local says the notice was served after two unsuccessful mediation sessions this month. Members of the local will start job action on Monday at 5:45 a.m.

According to SD63, job action would mean all classes would be cancelled and buses would not be running. Dave Eberwein, superintendent of schools for the Saanich School District says it is anticipated that teachers honour the picket line so parents should make alternate plans for their children’s care. SD63 has nearly 8,000 students in eight elementary schools, three middle schools and three secondary schools.

CUPE Local 441 president Dean Coates said in a statement that the local could not reach an agreement that addresses concerns of its members, such as lower wages compared to their counterparts in Sooke and Victoria. Members are asking for comparable wages with other districts on the South Island.

According to Eberwein, a decision was made by the union over 20 years ago to choose an increase in benefits over an increase in salaries. Several years later benefits throughout the province were “more or less harmonized,” Eberwein says.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: Saanich CUPE members willing to take job action over wage discrepancies

Members of the local include education assistants, technical support staff, library techs, youth and family counsellors and clerical, custodial, grounds, maintenance, transportation, trades and District support staff. The local represents nearly 500 kindergarten to grade 12 support staff workers in SD63.

The Board of Education vice-chair Elsie McMurphy says wage disparity between school districts is a priority for both parties.

“We believe we’ve put a fair proposal on the table, one which distributes the maximum funding available in a manner which reduces the greatest differences between us and our neighbours,” McMurphy said.

The Board of Education says its offer seeks to apply larger wage increases to positions that have “fallen the furthest behind” such as education assistants and other educational, secretarial and school support positions. The proposal also provides wage increases for all support staff in excess of six per cent over the three-year term of the agreement, in line with other settlements in school districts and other employee groups in the province, according to the Board.

Eberwein says the District and the union are partners in a Provincial Framework Agreement which sets a maximum dollar value of compensation. The board says “the maximum funding available, as per the Provincial Framework Agreement and the Collective Agreement, has already been allocated to the fullest extent possible in the current proposals.”

READ ALSO: Mediation the next step in SD63 wage dispute

The local bargained with the employer on six occasions and participated in two sessions with a mediator to try and reach an agreement, according to CUPE. SD63 says the parties met with a mediator on Oct. 22.

CUPE says that in August, “a large number of members” voted in favour of taking job action if necessary.

“Our goal was always to reach an agreement that addresses members’ needs without disrupting students and families in Saanich,” said Coates.

Eberwein says the best solution possible is “we’re able to come up with a negotiated agreement for our support staff employees who are extremely important to the excellent work that we do in the district and that we do so without disruption to education.”

McMurphy said the Provincial Framework Agreement (PFA) requires the Board of Education to ratify an agreement by Nov. 30.

“In the event we can’t reach a settlement by that date we are concerned that some of the funding associated with the PFA, which we are relying on to enhance our proposed wage increases, will no longer be available,” McMurphy said.

Parents and guardians are being asked to check the Saanich Schools website for additional updates.

“I certainly understand the frustration that must be felt out there from our parents and the community over the lack of progress at the bargaining table,” Eberwein said. “It is our goal to continue to find a solution and we are determined to get there.”

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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