The Saanich branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 441) has voted in favour of taking job action if necessary.
In support of their bargaining committee, CUPE 441 members working in School District 63 (SD 63) took a strike vote which concluded on Aug. 27. A majority of the members who voted were in favour of taking job action if needed.
CUPE 441 is comprised of the almost 500 SD 63 support staff who work in a variety of fields; educational assistants, technical support staff, library techs, counsellors, custodial and maintenance staff, clerical workers, and more.
Dean Coates, president of CUPE 441 indicated that support staff in SD 63 have been paid less than those who do the same work in the Sooke and Greater Victoria school districts. This has been an issue for about 40 years and has been brought up at every contract negotiation, he explained.
Coates noted that they are asking for their needs to be met and for their wages to match those of support staff in other districts on the South Island. CUPE 441 is losing staff to other regions because they can do the same job for “quite a bit more money,” he said.
Coates emphasized that there won’t be picket lines during the first week of school. This vote is simply a message from members that they want to hold strong on the wage issues.
“Our members care very much about the students and don’t take strike action lightly,” said Coates.
Coates pointed out that the other issue that CUPE 441 has brought to the school board’s attention is that within the last four years, SD 63 started paying administrators and managers higher wages to keep qualified staff in the district.
“We want them to also recognize and value the contribution of support staff in Saanich schools,” he said.
A “full-blown strike” could come, but wouldn’t be in the near future.
SD 63 Board Vice-Chair Elsie McMurphy addressed CUPE 441’s successful strike vote and said the school district is very concerned. She noted that the district feels that the education of the students shouldn’t be “interrupted by a labour dispute.”
McMurphy explained that the district’s position is that the provisions already put forward to CUPE 441 address district-specific issues and are consistent with what other CUPE Locals have agreed to.
“The issue of wage competitiveness with other local school districts remains a concern to both CUPE and the Board,” said McMurphy. “The Board has worked diligently to propose reallocation of other monies available within the collective agreement to provide wage increases in excess of 6% over three years.”
SD 63 proposed a wage increase plan that would ensure that the support staff whose pay varies the most from their counterparts in other districts would receive a larger increase than others in the union. The staff who’s wages differ the most include folks working in “female-dominated jobs such as Educational Assistants,” said McMurphy. This, she explained, is in alignment with the provincial government mandates regarding compensation for public sector employees.
She noted that CUPE 441 rejected the school board’s proposed plan.
“We sincerely hope that the union will recognize that the school district is being fair and consistent in its approach and return to the bargaining table to continue working towards concluding an agreement,” said McMurphy.
Coates said that the district’s proposal would not be better for CUPE staff. He explained that the proposal was rejected because it would require several concessions from CUPE members and was offering things that staff will already receive as part of their compensation package without this proposal. Coates also noted that the provision that staff whose wage discrepancies are greater would receive more of a wage increase would mean that other staff would receive less of an increase in pay. This would mean some staff would be subsidizing their co-workers’ wages, he said.
Coates emphasized that CUPE 441 hopes the strike vote will show the employer that members are serious about the wage issues.