Schools closed in Saanich Tuesday as strike continues
VANCOUVER - Schools in Saanich will be closed again on Tuesday, as a strike over support worker wages enters its third week.
Talks between the union representing the support workers and the Saanich school district ended last week, after two days of what union president Dean Coates called "intense" negotiations and "marathon bargaining."
"We're very disappointed," Coates said. "We've been asking the employer back to the table since Thursday, since the conclusion of our meeting on Wednesday. The employer has not even bothered to reply to that."
Because the teachers' union honours the support workers' picket line, school in the district has been cancelled since Oct. 28. Roughly 7,000 have been locked out of school ever since.
The sticking point between the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 411 and the school district is wage parity. Specifically, support workers in the Saanich school district are paid significantly less than those doing comparable work in nearby Victoria and Sooke.
While the district has previously said that its latest offer represents all of the money that is available under the provincial contract negotiating framework, the union rejects that premise.
"The employer, clearly, is doing some hard bargaining, both in their proposals and timing," Coates said. "They're wanting us only to come back to the table if we're willing to talk within the confines of their funding that they wish to stick within."
Coates estimates that it would take between $1 million and $3 million in additional funding commitments from the province to cover the wage increases the union is seeking.
"Our community got very creative and we started giving ideas of how we can find some efficiencies within our own collective agreement to partially fund our own wage increases," he said. "That only goes so far, but we need them to start meeting us part-way with some additional funding."
Many parents and students have joined the support workers on their picket line to show their support.
But many district residents are also growing frustrated as the strike wears on and schools remain closed.
Asked what his message to those affected by the strike is, Coates offered the following response:
"We are parents, just as you are. We have children here. We're just as worried about their education. But we're frustrated with this employer for wasting opportunities to meet, to negotiate, to find a settlement."
Parents are planning another rally in support of the striking workers for Wednesday morning.