CUPE members at a Lower Mainland strike earlier this year. The union is threatening job action in three Okanagan school districts

School workers reach deal, call off strike

Support staff in three districts, including here in Penticton, had threatened to walk off the job as early as today

Last-ditch negotiations have averted a possible strike in three Okanagan school districts.

The union representing 1,150 support staff in the Okanagan Skaha, Okanagan Similkameen and North Okanagan Shuswap districts had threatened to walk out as early as Tuesday if a deal couldn’t be reached.

However, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 523 announced late Monday it had reached a tentative agreement that will keep schools open.

“It was a tough round of bargaining, but ultimately both sides put their heads together to come up with a compromise avoiding further job action,” union spokesman Rob Hewitt said in a statement that did not contain details of the tentative agreement.

Hewitt told the Western News last week the dispute stemmed from potential changes to long-term disability benefits.

Okanagan Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer said she couldn’t provide details until the agreement is finalized, but said it “includes increases to benefits for union members,” and  “the end result is a net zero cost to the district.”

She noted the deal must be ratified by both CUPE members and the districts within the next two weeks.

CUPE agreed in September to a framework agreement with the B.C. government that provided a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years, but individual districts were left to fund the pay hike and work out collective agreements with their respective union locals. The contracts will expire in June.

Nine of B.C.’s 60 school districts have yet to reach tentative agreements, according to the union.