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Update: School workers' union could begin strike action Tuesday
Students in the North-Okanagan and Shuswap could have some unscheduled time off this week, as the union representing education workers in the Shuswap is now in a legal position to strike, although the two sides in the dispute are scheduled to continue bargaining today (Monday).
The job action would occur in School District #83 (North Okanagan Shuswap), School District #53 (Okanagan Similkameen) and School District #67 (Okanagan Skaha). This could close schools in the three districts as early as Tuesday (tomorrow) as the union representing B.C. teachers has confirmed they will not cross picket lines.
School District #83 sent a letter home Monday advising parents of the uncertainty around the situation.
"Depending on the results of today's bargaining session, there is a strong possibility there could be some type of job action as early as tomorrow (Tuesday), writes Glenn Borthistle, School District #83 superintendent. "Unfortunately, at this time, we do not know what is being planned. To be prudent, if you require, you may wish to make alternate child car arrangements. I am sorry our students' learning could be affected by this disruption."
In a press release, CUPE Local 523 is frustrated that the employer bargaining group demanded a concession to claw back long-term disability savings for its 1,150 members.
The three school districts are part of the Okanagan Labour Relations Council, which negotiates local CUPE contracts for the three school districts.
"What has brought us to a strike position is the fact the employer is nickel and diming workers needing benefit improvements in school districts running substantial surpluses," said Rob Hewitt, CUPE local 523 spokesperson. "We are not talking about very much money, but that's the point. These school districts are running surpluses, and our members are some of the lowest paid public sector workers. We deserve a fair deal."
Members of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Board of Education said they are disappointed and shocked to receive the strike notice.
Board chair Bobbi Johnson says what is being offered locally is consistent with the rest of the province. This includes an agreement in principle between the BC Public School Employers’ Association and representatives of CUPE, which saw the boards have to find a 3.5 per cent wage increase for the CUPE employees, within the budgets they had already planned.
“Although it was not an easy process, our board worked hard to find that money within our existing budget, because we believed our employees did deserve the raise,” said Johnson.
"It's unfortunate and kind of a shock that the union chose to give notice at this time. We thought we were close and are still hopeful this issue can be resolved without job action."
She said the board will keep the public informed.
“We are also sorry for the uncertainty this may cause our parents and students, and we will do our best to ensure that as soon as we know of any possible job action, we will let parents know.”
Hewitt says the costs of the additional benefits sought by CUPE is approximately $65,000.
"Based on these districts' budgets this is a small amount, but for our members who depend on these benefits, it means a lot."
Members of the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association are observing the situation closely.
“We hope they settle it and get a fair, negotiated agreement,” said Brenda O’Dell, NOSTA president.
“We support our CUPE colleagues and if picket lines show up, we will honour those lines.”
Check back at www.saobserver.net for updates.