Empty school playground equipment at Twin Rivers Elementary in Castlegar on Friday

School strike a possibility in September

More than 220 school support staff workers in the East and West Kootenays could be on the picket lines in September.

Cherryl MacLeod, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1285 and an education assistant, has warned that if a deal with the government over wage increases isn’t reached soon, there could be a province-wide strike as early as mid-September.

MacLeod represents more than 220 school support staff workers in the East and West Kootenays, including bus drivers, trades people, education assistants, clerical, maintenance and custodial staff.

“Basically, all of the people that keep schools clean, safe and inclusive,” said MacLeod by phone on Tuesday, Aug. 20. “We’ve been negotiating with the government for our collective agreement since it expired over a year ago. We’ve been trying to negotiate but talks broke off again at the beginning of August.”

The local president said the union has been in a legal strike position since June and has not had a wage adjustment in four years. There are no new negotiation dates set at this point. MacLeod said the government made it clear they weren’t prepared to discuss wages, but she and the other six union presidents are prepared to go back to the table on short notice.

“They can phone today and say the government wants to talk to us and I’ll head back to Vancouver to try and bargain,” she said. “If that doesn’t happen by the middle of September, we will be on strike.”

Macleod said the union is negotiating for increases that have been offered to CUPE members in post-secondary education;  a two per cent funded increase for the next two years. Failing that, a 72-hour strike notice could be given at any time. When the strike vote was held in the East and West Kootenays, MacLeod said the results were 89 per cent in favour.

Scott Sutherland, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education was reached by phone on Wednesday, Aug. 21 and said the provinces lead negotiator, Peter Cameron, has contacted the bargaining committee representing the support worker unions.

“They’ve been discussing meeting dates to get back to bargaining and both sides are optimistic they’ll sit down in the near future,” said Sutherland. “Cameron is involved as the government’s lead on this but he’s there to assist the employers and when you get down to it, it’s not the government who is the employer in this, it’s the school districts. And when we say school districts, it’s actually the trustees — the boards of education are the employers in this instance.”

In an interview with the Trail Daily Times in May, SD20 board chair Darrel Ganzert said he understands where CUPE is coming from but said the board was limited at the bargaining table because most requests had a monetary impact.

“For a group of trustees, who cannot raise taxes and simply rely on what money we get from the government, all we are faced with doing is laying more people off,” said Ganzert. “Our system is stretched so thin now and it’s more than embarrassing when you take a look at the state of our schools. They’re not as clean as they used to be, most all of them need paint and many of them need new roofs.”

The cooperative gains mandate the government is negotiating under essentially asks that funds for increases for wages need to be found from within existing budgets or through union concessions on things such as benefits.

MacLeod said the bargaining process was affected when Cameron became involved.

“It set us back,” she said. “We had somebody new as a lead and we didn’t have the people from BCPSEA that we were used to dealing with.” She said they thought they change might work out better with Cameron having closer to links to government but that it didn’t turn out that way.

“He called us back to the table and didn’t have any way to give us a wage adjustment,” she said. “I don’t want to put my members out on strike but we do need to make government aware that we’re done.”

MacLeod said she didn’t feel the union was making unreasonable demands, adding that the average K-12 worker has an annual income of about $24,000 per year.

CUPE represents more than 27,000 B.C. education workers in the K-12 system.

* With files from Val Rossi, Trail Daily Times.


Just Posted

Nelson rejects plastic bag ban, opts for education and awareness

Council will collaborate with Chamber of Commerce

Nelson U-Haul shutting down

Kootenay Glass and Mirror will no longer provide the service as of July 12

Search for missing Salmo motorcyclist called off for the time being

RCMP say no evidence of Cory McKay’s whereabouts was found Thursday

Huckleberry harvesting restricted in Kootenay-Boundary region

Critical foraging zones for grizzly bear and other wildlife species

Silverton commits to 100% renewable energy by 2050

The villages joins pledges made by Nelson, New Denver, Rossland and the RDCK

‘Bad choices make good stories’: Margaret Trudeau brings her show to Just for Laughs

Trudeau says over the decades she has been suicidal, manic, depressed

Health Canada revokes licences of B.C.-based pot producer Agrima Botanicals

The agency said it notified the company of a suspension in November due to non-compliance with regulations

Deals, protests during Amazon Prime Day

The Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth says it is offering more than a million deals

Canadian national softball team wins second straight Canada Cup

Team Canada defeats Texas-based Scrapyard International in gold-medal game Sunday in Surrey

June sees drop in home sales, prices for real estate across B.C.: report

Sales dropped by 11.8%, while prices fell by 4%

Video captures driver narrowly avoiding hitting Granfondo cyclists in Okanagan

“I’m just glad that everything aligned enough and no one got hurt,” said Shaun Siebert

Canadian officials flagged 900 food items from China with ‘problems’ over 2 years

The scrutiny of agricultural goods has been central to a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China

Most Read