Job action to spill into school year

Local CUPE pushing for 2 per cent wage increase for its public employees

Picket lines might be the centre of discussion instead of post-summer gossip when students return to classes in a few weeks.

Cherryl MacLeod, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1285 board president, just returned from a bargaining session in Vancouver. Negotiations with the BC Public School Employers’ Association, the bargaining arm for the boards of education,  reached an impasse and talks broke off indefinitely.

“We were asked to come back to the bargaining table,” said MacLeod. “But it quickly became apparent they hadn’t really done their homework and there was no point in us being there.”

CUPE voted in favour of strike action in May, including most of its 230 local members, after a collective agreement with education workers expired over a year ago and no new contract was settled.

The first province-wide strike action happened in June, when local custodians dropped their mops to take part in a study session with fellow CUPE members inside J.L Crowe Secondary School and Rossland Secondary School.

Since that time, bargaining has stalled, and the main stumbling block is CUPE’s demand for a two per cent wage increase.

“We haven’t had a wage increase since 2009,” said MacLeod. “I don’t think our wants are unreasonable and we have waited a long time since our contract expired.”

Although CUPE hasn’t officially given a date when full-scale job action will begin, picket lines will be up as early as mid-September if a settlement isn’t reached with the more than 27,000 education workers in the K-12 system.

“No one wants to disrupt classes,” explained MacLeod. “But if we are not asked back to the table by Labour Day weekend, a total strike and walkout will happen with a total shut down of the school district.”

If talks resume by then, and CUPE is allotted the two per cent wage increase this fall, the school district may be thrown into a tailspin as a result.

School District 20 (SD20) just completed a contemptuous process to balance its 2013/14 budget, which included school closures.

Now SD20 may be on the line for up to $136,000 to cover a CUPE wage increase, which is not just one time money, but ongoing.

The government has downloaded the cost of wage increases onto the school district before, which “tied our hands quite severely,” said Darryl Ganzert, SD20 board chair.

“This would be a very, very difficult situation for us because our budget is balanced,” he said.

“What it would mean, plain and simple, is more job losses, that is a fact.”

CUPE represents school bus drivers, custodians, clericals, maintenance, tech and trades, education assistants, childcare and child and youth care workers and aboriginal education employees.