The Kootenay Lake School District joins others in the province in watching contract negotiations. A strike by CUPE workers could halt classes just as the school year starts.

Job action looms over school start

School will start on schedule next week but job action could interrupt studies just as the ball gets rolling.

School will start on schedule next week but job action could interrupt studies just as the ball gets rolling.

The Kootenay Lake School District’s Jeff Jones wants to make sure parents know school will start September 3 but warns parents should have a back-up plan for week two of classes.

“In the worst case scenario, for the following week, we really need to be thinking of what plans will be for child care in event of a strike,” he says.

Superintendent Jones says while adults negotiating contracts see labour disputes throughout their careers, children only have one shot at their respective grades and disrupting their studies is impactful — especially just as kids get excited for heading back.

“Our youngest children, our Kindergarten and Grade 1 children, are going for the first time,” he says. “Some of them weren’t even sure school would be starting for them.”

Beyond the start of school, there is never a good time for labour strife to enter the classroom.

“You hate to see these kinds of labour issues interfere with the cycle of the year,” he says. “You only get Grade 1 once. You only get Kindergarten once. And I think that’s the hardest part on our kids.”

Because a 72-hour notice must be given it’s unlikely disruptions will occur the first week unless talks break down in the first day, says Jones.

There are 27,000 CUPE members in the province and workers include bus drivers, clerical workers, facilities and maintenance employees, technology support personnel and educational assistants.

They are set to meet with the provincial government at the bargaining table on Wednesday.

CUPE members say they would like a two per cent raise arguing they’ve not seen an increase in four years. They’ve been without a contract for more than a year.

The BC government says pay hikes would have to come from local boards as the province doesn’t have the funds.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said he’s optimistic a deal can be found without disruptions in the classroom as they return to talks. Negotiations broke down earlier in August.

In the eventuality of a strike, other unions, including that representing teachers, would likely not cross the picket line set up by CUPE.

Jones explains the district is watching talks closely and is in contact with all their employees to manage who will be on the job and who won’t.

“We continue to regulate the stress,” he says.


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