Union rejects offer in Saanich School District strike; no classes Friday

Update: There will be no classes Friday in the Saanich School District due to continued job action.

Classes in the Saanich School District remain cancelled after striking support workers rejected the latest contract offer at a union meeting on Wednesday.

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There is “overwhelming support” among members of the union to continue with job action, said Dean Coates, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 441, which represents the workers.

“The offer from the employer does not adequately meet the needs of our students and our members to be able to provide for our families,” he said.

An update on the Saanich district website said CUPE 441 has been offered “the maximum funding available within the funding approved for local bargaining, consistent with all K-12 districts across the province.”

The district is offering staff with the lowest wages relative to other districts an increase of up to 12.8 per cent over three years.

But Coates said that wage increase would only close the gap for some staff, and the overall offer does not meet the needs of all union members.

He said the offer does nothing to address the needs of bus drivers, custodians and administrative workers. Coates said the district is struggling to retain staff in these positions because of the wage disparity, leading to chronically short-staffed schools.

About 500 members of CUPE Local 441, including education assistants, counsellors and custodians, began job action Oct. 28 in a dispute that included a demand for wage parity with workers in neighbouring school districts. Coates said the lower wages make it difficult to attract and retain staff.

The district has said lower wages are a result of a union decision years ago to forgo a wage increase in favour of better benefits. But Coates said support workers in Saanich district schools have comparable benefits to staff in other school districts, because of a standardized benefits package introduced provincially in 2014.

“What happened was those with higher wages got to opt in to get better benefits, so the benefits equalized but the wages did not,” Coates said.

He added that the wage disparity is compounded over the years, because wages increase by percentages.

The union meeting was held at Friendship Community Church at 3:30 p.m. It was originally set for 4 p.m. CUPE 441 members were emailed copies of the offer package beforehand.

Coates said he is “excessively disappointed” that the bargaining committee did not reach an agreement it felt it could recommend to members. “We do not have a deal for them to ratify.”

Coates said that it will take between $1 million and $3 million to settle the wage-parity issue and deal with recruitment and retention concerns regarding support staff.

The union has said that some workers — including education assistants — earn several dollars an hour less in Saanich district than they would doing the same job in neighbouring districts.

The strike has left some parents scrambling, with many paying to send younger children to day camps at recreation centres and other sites.

Further updates from the Saanich district will be available at sd63.bc.ca.


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