School strike averted

Coast Mountains School District is prepared to fund wage increase for school support workers

Coast Mountains School District (CMSD) board chair Art Erasmus says the district is pleased a school strike by district school support workers has been averted – and that the district will “make it work” in order to give those workers the 3.5 per cent wage increase agreed to in the tentative two-year agreement reached last night.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing 27,000 K-12 school support workers across the province, and provincial government representatives, working with the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BSPSEA), announced a tentative contract deal late last night, following weeks of strike speculation.

The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by all parties, provides union members with a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years – a retroactive one per cent on July 1, 2013, two per cent on Feb. 1, 2014, and 0.5 per cent on May 1, 2014. A pay direct card for up-front drug expenses for union members is also included in the tentative contract.

That wage increase, as required under the provincial “cooperative gains mandate”, needs to be funded from savings found in existing school district budgets – the province has said since last year that it will provide no new money to districts for support worker wage increases.

Erasmus said the district was prepared for the potential wage increase. This despite some pushback from boards following a letter in December 2012 asking districts to prepare savings plans in the event of a negotiated wage increase for support workers.

“We have been making preparations that if an agreement at about this magnitude gets settled, how we would fund it,” Erasmus said. “We have the opportunity as a board not to agree because it’s an agreement with our local union, but we would be pretty unwise not to agree to it when everybody else in the province is going to agree to it.”

If the board and local union ratify the agreement, the estimated cost for wage increases in the CMSD, based on current support staff levels, is $205,000 for the 2013/2014 school year. And once the proposed contract is fully implemented, the 3.5 per cent increase will increase support staff costs by close to $340,000 per school year, also based on current staffing levels.

“We’re going to make it work out,” said Erasmus, noting that this ultimately means that some purchases and renovations that would come out of local capital will be delayed, although he could not provide specific examples at this time.

But students will not be adversely affected, he said.

“That was one of the requirements of the government when they told us to look at the cooperative gains mandate and create a savings plan – that it could not come directly from student services,” he said. “That’s the law.”

The district has requested a meeting with CUPE Local 2052 for next week to discuss next steps.