School district support staff won’t walk off the job any sooner than October, but both sides in ongoing contract talks are determined to avoid a strike at all costs.
“We hope we don’t have to go. We’re hoping for a deal. We’ve got the bargaining dates set,” CUPE Local 3500 president John Hall said Wednesday.
Bargaining is scheduled for Sept. 17, 24 and 27. If a deal can’t be reached with the Kamloops-Thompson School District during that time, then Hall and his troops are prepared to strike, he said.
Hall’s union local is a bit behind schedule compared to the rest of the province. He said locals elsewhere sit down Sept. 4, 5 and 6 and are prepared to walk off the job as early as Sept. 9 in some districts.
“They are going full speed ahead as if there is going to be (a strike), but they’re hoping like hell that something will come out of these talks,” he said. “But they’ve got to be prepared to go.”
Local bargaining has gone well so far, said Hall. He’s optimistic a deal can be reached.
School district Supt. Terry Sullivan is determined to see support workers get a pay raise. He said CUPE members are the lowest paid employees in the district in many areas.
“We certainly want to see that happen and we’ve tucked away some resources for that,” said Sullivan.
The province has said any wage increase for custodians, bus drivers, education assistants and tradespeople will be paid for by school districts.
CUPE members haven’t received a boost to their pay for four years.
This will come as a blow to some cash-strapped districts. Sullivan said Kamloops-Thompson managed to save enough money to cover a bump in salaries for at least the first year of a deal.
“The sky is not the limit,” he said. “I know there could be some labour strife in other school districts.”
The framework for wages will be worked out next week. Sullivan said this will provide a range for what administrators can negotiate.
School board chairwoman Denise Harper said Kamloops-Thompson is one of the few districts in this position to pay.
But there’s no way the district could cover the increase over a number of years, he said.
The Ministry of Education has maintained school districts would only pay for raises with contracts that expired on Dec. 31, 2011.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender is not commenting publicly about any plans the government may have if the province’s school-support workers end up striking.