The Kootenay Lake school district has not been able to find funds to cover wage increases for its CUPE workers — at least not without unwanted impacts on students, board chair Mel Joy says.
Trustees discussed the matter — the CUPE bargaining provincial framework savings plan — at a special finance committee meeting Tuesday afternoon in Creston.
“While the Ministry [of Education] is asking boards to find the money within our budgets, they had also said there could be no impact on our core services,” Joy said. “Our board stated last night that there was no way we could make reductions in our budget without impacting services to students.”
Joy explained staff worked on a savings plan giving consideration to a “broad range of ideas” including reduction in school supply allocations as well as reduction in technology replacement and industrial tech education budgets, for example. After deliberation, the finance committee rejected that plan and the board followed suit.
“There were things within that savings plan that we know would impact services to kids,” she said.
CUPE locals throughout the province are working with local boards after the government negotiated a wage increase averting a strike last month.
The tentative provincial framework agreement included an end rate 3.5 percent wage increase over two years. The agreement provides a one per cent increase retroactive to July 1, two per cent on February 1, 2014, and 0.5 per cent on May 1, 2014.
CUPE issued a release this week stating the union hopes to work with school boards to ensure services for all BC students are not adversely affected. They stand together with trustees in calling on the provincial government to invest in public education with the funding necessary to meet the requirements of the agreement between the BC government and education workers, said Colin Pawson, chair of the CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council.
“This is the deal the BC Government negotiated, and so they are required to fund this agreement,” he said. “Under the government’s own cooperative gains mandate services that affect students cannot be cut.”
Joy said the Kootenay Lake school board’s rejection of the savings plan was in part based “on principle.”
“We had written a letter in the spring stating that the minister needed to come to the table as well with some savings or some amount of money to provide a wage increase. To fully expect our board to find it within our own budgets when we are already cut so thin, we just felt this isn’t possible,” she said.
With meetings with local CUPE workers scheduled, Joy said she’s not sure what will happen as they come to the table with no money. It’s possible bargaining will continue outside the framework agreement. Other options are being explored as well.
“If we don’t have an agreement by the time the provincial framework is done, I am not sure what that means,” said Joy. “I don’t know if our CUPE will respond with a strike. It’s ‘wait and see’ at the moment. We are hopeful the Ministry will put some effort into finding an amount of money that will contribute to finding this wage increase.”
School district bargaining tables are continuing to meet across BC. Once settlements are achieved, they will be voted on by the memberships of the respective CUPE locals, of which there are 57 CUPE across BC, representing 27,000 educational support workers. The deadline for ratification of all local agreements is December 20.