Comment: This student’s support for union is waning as Saanich schools strike drags on

A commentary by a student at Claremont Secondary School in the Saanich School District.

When Saanich School District was first served a strike notice by CUPE 441 last month, the strikers had my sympathy. Everyone assumed that if the strike happened at all, it would all be over in a couple of days, and we would return to school with our support staff a few dollars richer.

The wage gap between Saanich School District 63’s support staff and their counterparts in other districts is quite substantial, and while I wouldn’t have been out there on the picket line myself, the strikers had my support.

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However, nearly three weeks and a scrapped deal later, this is no longer the case. I am a senior student at Claremont Secondary School, and every day that we are barred from returning to school, I grow a little more uneasy.

We are now nearly three weeks behind on all of our classes, a deficit that is only compounded by the semester system, and we have missed our midterms.

While many students, myself included, are inclined to lack foresight, and focus only on this unexpected time we have off, the question of just how much this CUPE strike has hurt our education has probably crossed the minds of almost everyone in high school, regardless of where their sympathies lie.

On Nov. 6 and 7, it looked as though a settlement might have been reached. CUPE and the school district were finally talking, and the district took the unusual step of publishing its package offer on its website, a move that I believe was meant to show transparency, as well as the district’s willingness to resolve the wage-discrepancy issue.

Among many of the finer details and clauses included in the contract, the employer offered a seven-to-12.8 per cent wage increase over the course of three years. The union rejected this deal. And this is where they lost me.

Among other reasons, CUPE 441 cited the students themselves as a reason to reject the deal. CUPE argues that without “adequate” pay for its members, the school district will fail to attract employees, leaving many positions unfilled, which affects the education of students.

While that may be true, I would argue that two or more weeks of missed classes does far more to hamper the education of students than short staffing might have. And all that aside, the school district’s offer was endorsed by none other than the premier himself, a lifelong New Democrat and union supporter. And yet, CUPE elected to reject the deal.

I call that selfish. CUPE’s motivation for striking is no longer dictated by a desire for better public education. They cannot claim anymore that they are doing this for the students. They are striking because they still want more money.

Yes, I can’t blame them for that, but it is entirely unfair to the 8,000 students they are supposed to serve to pretend that they are fighting the good fight on our behalf, when, in fact, they are holding us hostage as bargaining tools.

Now, as the strike stretches into a third week, CUPE and the school district are not even talking. Meanwhile, teachers are off the job, parents of young children dish out hundreds of dollars a week for child care and the future prospects of our Grade 12 students are diminished. You can’t get into university if you haven’t finished high school.

This may all sound like I hate CUPE and School District 63’s support staff. I don’t. What I do hate is the greed and obstreperous attitudes of their leadership. Yes, some of the fault for the strike lies with the district, but I place the blame going forward on CUPE.

The district offered to give them what they wanted, but it wasn’t enough. Now, as students, we can only sit by and wait. We are caught in the middle of another battle between those who teach us and those who pay them.

With no end to the strike in sight, I can only hope that CUPE will accept what the district has to offer so that all parties involved can get back to work.

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