Parents’ group urges ‘cooling-off’ in Saanich school support workers’ strike

It’s time for the province to declare a “cooling-off period” in the strike by Saanich School District support workers, a parents’ group says.

As the strike by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 441 stretches into its third week, something needs to be done to get the close to 8,000 students back to school, said James Taylor, second vice-president of the Confederation of Parents’ Advisory Councils of Saanich.

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In a cooling-off period, workers would return to their jobs.

“We need to step back, we need to get our kids back in school,” said Taylor, who has a son in Grade 11 at Claremont Secondary. “It seems pretty clear that we’re spinning our wheels.”

About 500 CUPE 441 members, including education assistants, custodians and clerical staff, are seeking wage parity with their counterparts in neighbouring school districts.

They have been on strike since Oct. 28. Teachers are not crossing their picket lines, which means about 14 schools across Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney are closed.

CUPE 441 president Dean Coates said a cooling-off period isn’t necessary and the union is ready to resume talks. “We just need to get to the table,” Coates said. “We’re ready to roll. We’ve been ready to roll since last Thursday.”

School board vice-chairwoman Elsie McMurphy, however, said that there is no point going back to the table if the union is not willing to bargain within the provincial framework.

That framework regulates public-sector wage increases, limiting them to two per cent annually over three years. The district has offered 7.1 to 12.8 per cent wage increases over three years, with the larger hikes targeted for those with the lowest wages relative to other districts, but the union rejected the offer.

McMurphy said the strike has caused “stresses and strife and inconveniences and downright hardships,” but she’s not sure a cooling-off period would be a useful step.

“I don’t know to what avail a cooling-off period would be because we somehow have to come to an agreement,” she said. “You can have a cooling-off period and then what?”

Taylor said he remains hopeful an agreement will be reached, saying many families have reached a “tipping point,” including those who have to pay for child care — with camps set up to take out-of-school kids costing $40 per child per day.

“There’s some real-world consequences, real-world stress and emotional toll this is taking.”

Carolyn Moeller, who has a son in Grade 12 at Stelly’s Secondary and a son in Grade 7 at Bayside Middle, said that as the strike goes on, she is “doubling down” on her support for the CUPE 441 workers. Today, she plans to take part in an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. rally at the Saanich School District office at 2125 Keating Cross Rd.

Similar rallies were held last Friday at Brentwood and Sidney elementaries to back striking workers.

“I’m still strong as ever that we need to resolve this in a fair manner,” Moeller said.

Taylor agreed: “I think everyone agrees that we want to address this issue, wage parity.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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