School support workers close to clinching collective agreements

Unions and school districts now need to conclude local bargaining aspect

Unions representing support workers in B.C. public schools reached a tentative agreement with the employer over provincial bargaining issues last week.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents more than 90 per cent of all support workers in the K-12 public education system, including all workers in Nanaimo schools.

The agreement with the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which lasts until June 30, does not include any wage or benefit increases, but does include money for more education assistant hours in classrooms.

The province will allocate $7.5 million per year for more education assistant time, to come out of its class-organization fund, a pot of money the province has set aside to deal with complex classroom issues.

Ron Farino, president of CUPE Local 606, said education assistants he’s talked to are happy with the deal, which translates to about 45 minutes of extra paid time per week for each eligible worker.

“It’s not significant, but we feel it’s a win for CUPE,” he said. “It’s better than zero.”

Farino said of the 800 support workers the union represents, about 300 are education assistants. For the rest, the deal simply means business as usual.

Other highlights include:

u $550,000 in new funding for skills enhancement and to study wage regionalization and other key issues

u $200,000 to solidify a framework for provincial bargaining

u CUPE access to sector demographic and classification information for research purposes

u a wage reopener clause in the event the public sector wage mandate changes over the life of the agreement

The next step is to wrap up the local portion of bargaining before an agreement can be ratified, said Farino, as the collective agreement for Nanaimo support workers includes both provincial and local portions.

To include the provincial agreement in local collective agreements, the employers’ association has given each school district and respective union(s) until Feb. 29 to conclude local bargaining and ratify their collective agreements.

Farino said the union has only met with Nanaimo school district representatives five times so far, but the two sides have come to consensus on several issues.

“We’ve signed off four or five items,” he said.

Farino said the union will not discuss details of local bargaining until it has concluded.

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