School support staff close to contract deal

the Kamloops-Thompson school district will have to submit to the provincial government a savings plan

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

A deal appears to be in place. What remains is how the deal will be funded.

By Oct. 15, administration at the Kamloops-Thompson school district will have to submit to the provincial government a savings plan that shows how it will pay for wage increases that will likely go into place after a tentative agreement was reached with the union representing support staff.

After three days of bargaining, the potential deal was reached on Wednesday, Sept. 18, one that will see the 27,000 school-board staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees receive a retroactive raise of one per cent, effect July 1, 2012, a 2.5 per cent increase on Feb. 1, 2014 and a half per cent increase in May 2014.

The contract expires at the end of June 2014. Staff had been working without a contract for more than a year as bargaining progressed.

Kamloops-Thompson school district Supt. Terry Sullivan said the delay in finalizing a deal was the provincial government’s requirement any wage increases in the public sector be funded through comparative gains — in essence, find the money somewhere because there will be no more coming from the government for salaries.

Sullivan said a framework being negotiated at the provincial level resolved Wednesday and, once that was in place, a deal with CUPE Local 3500 was easy to reach.

Sullivan said it shouldn’t be a challenge paying for the first increase because the district is in a good financial position, with a surplus that can be dipped into to pay wages.

The subsequent pay hikes must be justified through a savings plan, something Sullivan does not foresee as posing significant problems because the district has worked hard in recent years to find ways to save money.

For example, it pays less on fuel now than it did in 2004 and 2005, he said.

The union represents education assistants, clerical, trades, maintenance and technology staff and bus drivers.

Sullivan said he has always maintained throughout bargaining the employees represented by CUPE “are the lowest paid and they are entitled to a wage increase.”

John Hall, president of the Kamloops CUPE local, was not available for comment and no date for a ratification vote has been announced.

Sullivan said the next priority is to resolve bargaining with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, something that has been put on hiatus as the union’s court challenge to government restrictions on its bargaining rights is heard in B.C. Supreme Court.

In 2011, the court ruled on an application from the BCTF on a 2002 provincial law change that removed its right to bargain class sizes and composition, among other issues. The court declared the action unconstitutional and directed the government to make changes.

The BCTF is back in court arguing the government has ignored the repercussions of the ruling and that Bill 22, which was passed by the province last year to end strike action by teachers and require a mediator negotiate an agreement, is also unconstitutional.

The court began hearing the application earlier this month, with more dates scheduled for October.

Sullivan said there’s no indication when a ruling will be rendered and bargaining with teachers can begin again.

“But, I’m sure CUPE will be interested in what will happen with the teachers,” he said.