Striking Saanich school support workers reach tentative deal with school district – Global News

Striking Saanich school support workers reach tentative deal with school district - Global News
Striking Saanich support staff and school district reach tentative deal
Saanich schools will finally reopen on Monday after the district and 500 striking school support workers reached a tentative contract agreement Saturday morning.

The agreement, which was signed by both parties, will be presented to union members for a ratification vote on Sunday and likely bring a three-week strike to an end.

“I’m very happy to recommend this deal to our membership,” CUPE 441 president Dean Coates told Global News Saturday.

“We needed to do this in order to ensure we were able to meet the needs of our families and meet the needs of our students.”

As a sign of good faith, the union is taking down all picket lines starting Monday, allowing all 18 schools that had been shut down throughout the strike to reopen.

“We recognize that this has been an extremely frustrating and disruptive time for everyone, including our students and their families,” district superintendent Dave Eberwein said in a statement.

“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.”

READ MORE: Horgan urges striking Saanich school support workers to take district’s ‘superior’ deal

It’s not clear if the deal is equal or similar to the one published in full by the school district earlier this month, which included a seven to 12.8 per cent wage increase and other measures.

B.C. Premier John Horgan waded into the dispute shortly afterwards, suggesting the union review and accept the “superior” deal.

CUPE 441 represents 500 education assistants, technical support staff, library technicians, family counsellors, custodial and maintenance staff and others, who walked off the job on Oct. 28.

Striking workers said theyre paid less than their counterparts in neighbouring school districts, a differential that ranged from 30 cents to $4 per hour.

The differential exists because the union opted for better benefits decades ago, according to the district. Those benefits have since been put in line with all other school districts in B.C.

But the union said the existing wage difference was causing problems in recruiting and retaining staff.

The district had maintained it offered everything it could amid the provinces public sector wage cap of two per cent increase per year.

The dispute left parents of an estimated 7,300 students scrambling to find child care during the day, which also put a strain on local daycare staff.

Teachers, whose respect of the support workers’ picket lines forced the school closures, rallied outside Education Minister Rob Fleming’s constituency office in Victoria Friday urging the government to step in.

The Saanich School District says it has reached a tentative agreement with the union that represents more than 500 support staff workers, which means all of its schools will reopen Monday.

Support staff have been on strike for about three weeks and unionized teachers have refused to cross picket lines, so about 7,000 students have not been going to class during that time.

"This has been a very exciting day for us," said school superintendent Dave Eberwein. "It's been a long three weeks."

The CUPE Local 441 members — who include educational assistants, custodians, and bus drivers — have been demanding wage parity, claiming their pay is significantly lower than neighbouring school districts like Greater Victoria. 

"I'm very proud of the work we did on this tentative agreement," Coates said. "I'm very proud to recommend acceptance to our membership."

Coates wouldn't provide any details on the terms of the agreement, but said the union agreed to take down picket lines as a show of good faith. 

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at [email protected]

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