Local CUPE education workers have voted to strike as the second week of summer vacation for most students comes to a close.
CUPE workers have not had a wage increase since 2009 and are looking for an agreement similar to what other public sector employees have achieved.
“CUPE education workers want a fair settlement with the provincial government,” said Colin Pawson, chair of the CUPE B.C. K-12 presidents’ council. “Without any adjustments of wages for more than four years, it is time the people who keep our children’s schools working are respected.”
But what CUPE workers are looking for will have to come from the provincial government’s Cooperative Gains Mandate, under which B.C. school districts are asked to come up with ways to fund wage increases locally through budget savings. The savings are intended to free up funding for pay increases for support staff in schools.
Former Education Minister Don McRae last winter asked all school districts across the province to come up with a 1.5 per cent savings in district operations and to submit the savings plan by January 15. He also said that the savings must not impact educational programs.
However, School District 72’s board of education fired back in a letter dated January 15 that it would be impossible to provide a savings plan that would not impact students and indicated the board would be submitting a zero savings plan.
Now, following on the heels of a CUPE strike vote (Campbell River’s CUPE local 723 voted June 26) the board is reiterating that it simply cannot afford to pay for wage increases.
“As a board of education we support a fair wage settlement for all of our employee groups,” wrote Michele Babchuk, on behalf of the board, to current Education Minister Peter Fassbender. “However, as we indicated in our letter dated January 15, 2013, we simply cannot fund wage increases within the current funding allotment without negatively impacting learning and eroding services in the classroom. Again, we find ourselves increasingly frustrated that we are being asked to locally fund any settlements.”
Babchuk goes on in her letter to express the board’s concern for the politics involved in education.
“As a school district, we value and work hard to maintain a positive working relationship with our support staff and our board is gravely concerned about the continued government/labour unrest in the education sector,” Babchuk wrote.
CUPE education workers include education assistants, clerical staff, trades, aboriginal workers, youth and family workers, custodians and bus drivers.