Saanich school strike by support workers impacts 8,000 students

WatchThe union representing 500 support workers remains off the job in the Saanich School District. CUPE members started picketing this morning at seven a.m. closing 18 sites in the district, and keeping more than 7,500 students home. Mary Griffin reports.

CUPE picket lines went up at seven Monday morning, shutting schools across School District 63, and keeping almost 8,000 children at home.

This is not how Jessica Norman expected her children to spend Monday morning, reading to her children, and a neighbour’s son.

They should be in school. Even though she supports the workers, it’s still difficult to find childcare. For now, she and her neighbours are relying on each other.

“We’re definitely stressed. We know the strike is going to probably be longer than shorter,” Norman said.

“This is absolutely not a one day. Our members are prepared to walk until we reach a fair deal for our members.”

CUPE 441 President Dean Coates, said the issue is wage parity for support workers, including education assistants, with Victoria and Sooke.

“It’s been an issue for 40 years that we’ve gotten much lower wages to do virtually the same job. And it’s become a crisis situation in this district for all of our job categories, but especially our education assistants,” Coates said.

But the strike means parents are left scrambling.

“I fully support them, like 100 per cent support for all of the workers who are out there picketing today. And we will stand behind them. It’s still stressful for those of us who have to work to have this inevitable unknown for who knows how long, where we are like, what are we doing to do with our kids?” Norman said.

Although the school superintendent, Dave Eberwein, said he’s limited to the current offer of 6 per cent over three years, he understands parents’ frustrations.

“This is extremely frustrating for everybody and especially so for our families and our community that have had to make alternate arrangements for the care of the children during today. This is not an easy time for anybody,” Eberwein said.

So far, Minister of Education Rob Fleming, is staying out of the dispute.

“I’m confident that we can reach an agreement in the Saanich School District, and I hope if mediation is something that will be valuable that both parties return with the use of the mediator,” Fleming said.

For parents hoping to access a day camp during the strike, the Panorama Recreation Centre’s childcare programs are full except for a few spaces Friday. Saanich Parks and Recreation programs are full but there is a waitlist. 

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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