CUPE won’t cross B.C. teachers’ picket lines, but get full pay

A ritual takes place every morning outside the Sooke school district office on Jacklin Road.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees — teaching assistants, custodial staff, inside support workers, clerical, trades and groundskeepers — show up for roll call.

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“They come. We have a picket line [of teachers] outside the office. We take roll call. Because there’s a picket line, they can’t cross it. They leave and they’re paid for the day,” said Jim Cambridge, superintendent of the Sooke district.

In June, CUPE reached an agreement with the province, ensuring that for the duration of the teachers’ strike, any CUPE employees who were scheduled to work would continue to receive their full wages, said John Horsfield, CUPE position co-ordinator for kindergarten to Grade 12.

CUPE supports the teachers and has a policy not to cross picket lines, Horsfield said.

If there are no picket lines, employees are required to go to work. They have to check that every day, he said.

However, the agreement to pay CUPE workers during the teachers’ strike does not kick in until the local union and the school district ratify a new collective agreement, Horsfield said.

At this point, about 30 of the 58 union locals in the province have not concluded a deal.

It’s only CUPE members that have a deal that are getting paid, Horsfield said.

The unusual situation has created a dynamic situation in Sooke, said Cambridge.

Although picket lines appeared far and few between this summer in Victoria, an enthusiastic teachers’ union in Sooke managed to picket and keep CUPE members out of schools during the day all summer, he said.

When the picket line went down at 5 p.m., evening staff entered the building and got to work.

On the south Island, some CUPE locals have reached agreements, including in the districts of Sooke, the Gulf Islands and the Greater Victoria local representing outside workers, Horsfield said.

Saanich CUPE members are waiting for their contract to go through the ratification process, so they are not getting paid if they don’t work.

The Greater Victoria local representing inside workers, including teaching assistants and clerical workers, has yet to reach an agreement.

In the Greater Victoria district, that means CUPE inside workers who face a picket line of teachers can’t cross it to do their jobs and don’t get paid while outside workers do get paid even if they can’t do their jobs, said superintendent Sherri Bell.

To help ensure some inside workers could do their jobs, the district moved them to buildings where teachers don’t normally work, which means no picket lines can be set up, Bell said.

“We relocated them a couple of months ago, in June, to different spaces in the facilities building on Cecelia Street.”

That has angered teachers, who picketed the district headquarters on Monday.

The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Benula Larsen said that moving people who perform functions like payroll and human resources to another location “undermines” job action.

But those jobs are staffed by CUPE, and the district is permitted to change their work sites, Bell said.

She said that changing work sites means the workers can be paid.

Also, the workers can be paid for lost pay due to the strike if a contract is ratified by the end of November, she said.

— with files from Jeff Belll

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