On the first day back from a strike that lasted three weeks, everything around Deep Cove Elementary school in North Saanich appeared the way it did more than three weeks ago.
Students stepped from yellow buses onto wet pavement and crossing guards wearily eyed the column of cars snaking its way along West Saanich Road. But Monday, the first day of school after support workers represented by CUPE 441 ratified a new labour agreement with School District 63, was not like every other day.
It was the first day after a divisive local labour strike that interrupted the education of 7,000 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 across multiple communities in Greater Victoria for weeks, made provincial headlines and tested the patience and bank accounts of many groups, including parents, whose reactions to the end of the strike varied.
“I’m really happy,” said Lindsey Firestone. “It was a long time and academically, it is nice to be back.” As the mother of three was balancing a cup of coffee and getting two of her children across West Saanich Road, she recalled the moment, when she heard of the news that the two sides had reached an agreement Saturday.
“I was at Thrifty Foods, I got a text, and I nearly shrieked and jumped up for joy,” she said. She supported the striking support workers and their demands for wage parity. “Everybody wants to see that happen,” she said. “But we also want the kids back in school.”
Sarah Ruddick said the strike did not impact her as much as others. “I’m on maternity leave, so I was able to keep my children at home. But I really feel for those families who had to deal with this strike, and pay out of their pockets to put their kids into care.”
And if Firestone’s combination of euphoria and relief marked one side of the spectrum, Ruddick also issued a warning. If the deal does not end up benefitting support workers after all the struggles, she would consider not voting for the current government in the next election.
School officials, for their part, tried to strike all the right notes.
“We are extremely pleased to have our schools open once again and look forward to re-engaging with our community and providing quality public education,” said Dave Eberwein, the district’s superintendent, in a message posted on the district website.
The note acknowledged that the strike was “extremely frustrating and disruptive time for everyone,” including students and families. “We have a long established history of placing high value on the importance of people and relationships in our district, and understand that this disruption to the learning environment has created extra tension.”
Those tensions will likely persist for some time at the highest political level, as a press release from Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich-North suggests. While he welcomed the settlement, the strike raised questions about whether the provincial government is prioritizing education.
“British Columbians are proud of their teachers and schools, and we must continue to invest in their future success,” he said. “The people who are responsible for making our educational systems run — teachers, education assistants, technical support staff, library technicians, family counsellors, custodial and maintenance staff — all require support from the provincial government.”
The provincial government, for its part, has maintained throughout the strike that it values education and educators, while respecting local bargaining in refusing to intervene in the local dispute, a demand of local union leaders, parents and others.
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