Saanich schools prepare as support workers serve strike notice for Monday

Saanich schools prepare as support workers serve strike notice for Monday

The Saanich School District superintendent has sent out a notice telling parents and guardians to prepare for class cancellations due to a possible support-staff strike beginning Monday.

According to Superintendent Dave Eberwein, CUPE 441 has indicated that it intends to begin a full strike starting on Oct. 28 at 5:45 a.m.

Eberwein said during a strike, only school administrators will be attendance at all schools as it is expected that teachers will likely honour any CUPE picket lines. Therefore, all classes will be cancelled and buses will not be running.

“Our goal as a district during this job action will be to ensure that safety remains paramount,” Eberwein letter to parents and guardians.

Parents are advised not to bring their children to school and to make alternate arrangements for their care. Parents of children who attend childcare programs located within the schools are asked to contact their childcare providers directly.

“It’s an extremely unfortunate situation,” Eberwein said.

CUPE 441 represents over 400 employees in the following classifications; school support worker (E.A.’s, technical support staff, library techs and youth and family counsellors), clerical, custodial, district resource centre, transportation, grounds and maintenance.

In August, support staff voted in favour of potential strike action. CUPE 441 President Dean Coates told CHEK News that workers in School District 63 (Saanich) have received substantially lower wages than their counterparts in Sooke and Victoria for decades, and they want comparable wages with other districts on the South Island.

The Saanich School District Board of Education said Wednesday it had met with CUPE and Labour Relations Board mediator Grant McArthur on Oct. 22. A mediated settlement was not reached.

“The main issue with CUPE relates to wage disparity with our neighbouring districts, and it’s a priority for both of us”, Elsie McMurphy, vice-chair of the board, said in a statement.

“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.”

Coates said there have been two mediation sessions with no movement so the 72-hour strike notice was issued. According to Coates, the CUPE bargaining committee is available to negotiate around the clock up until Monday.

“The biggest issue is our wages,” Coates said. “Our wages are significantly lower than our counterparts in the Sooke and Victoria district and it’s been a 40-year issue. Our members can’t afford to wait any longer for there to be a meaningful movement to address this issue.”

According to the board, its offer seeks to remedy those inequalities by applying larger wage increases to positions that have fallen the furthest behind: education assistants and other educational, secretarial, and school support positions.

“Nevertheless, these proposals still provide 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 across other employee groups provincially,” a release from the board states.

According to the board, CUPE has requested the board find additional funds but 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.”

“The Provincial Framework Agreement requires us to ratify a local agreement by November 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.

Eberwein said the board has had discussions with the provincial government about the collective agreement and every bit of money that could put toward wages is on the table in the form of a contract proposal.

Coates said the offer on table is a step forward but doesn’t go far enough.

“It requires to concede language in our collective agreement which I don’t think we should have to do,” Coates said.

The school district said it will provide more details on the Saanich School District website as they become available.

“We regret the disruption that job action will cause for you, your children, and their educational programs, but we want to assure you that the board is determined to continue to work towards a resolution to this dispute, to provide our valued support staff with a fair settlement within the required provincial mandate,” Eberwein wrote.


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