School support workers studying potential job action

Students are due back in school on Sept. 3, but how long they’ll stay in class now seems uncertain.

Students are due back in school on Sept. 3, but how long they’ll stay in class now seems uncertain.

The union representing school support staff broke off contract talks with B.C. government representatives earlier this month and is now considering job action this fall.

“We feel we have no choice but to do job action,” said Jean Frolek, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 523, which covers the Okanagan.

“The provincial government was only asking what we were willing to give up.

“They had nothing to offer.”

Most of B.C.’s public school support workers, such as custodians and education assistants, have been without a contract for a year and have already registered an affirmative strike vote.

Frolek said that for now, strike dates are “just being considered in September. It’s not that there is a date (set) for the first day of school.”

Leslea Pryde, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, said if CUPE staff walk out, her members will too.

“They don’t cross our picket lines, we don’t cross theirs,”     Pryde said.

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said via email it would be inappropriate to comment on how parents might be affected by potential job action.

“CUPE has not provided any specifics about when job action will occur or what it will look like, so I prefer not to provide advice on hypothetical questions,” Hyer said.

“Best advice I can give at this point is to continue to monitor the media for updates.

“As well, the district will be advising parents as more specific information becomes available.”

Hyer said she will meet with district staff next week to discuss their planned response to any potential job action.

“Again, the plan will be dependent upon what job action looks like, if it occurs,” she added.

Frolek said CUPE walked away from bargaining because the B.C. government’s negotiator was unable to discuss wage increases. In recent negotiations with public sector unions, the B.C. government has imposed a collective gains mandate that  stipulates any wage increases must come from savings found within that sector. Last winter, school districts were asked to identify budget reductions to fund potential CUPE contract increases, however, school boards claimed there was no money to be found and refused to complete the exercise.