Teachers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were told Tuesday to expect a strike by CUPE education workers as early as Monday, meaning there could be no classes.
“That’s a possibility, but it’s still not definite,” said Ridge Meadows School District CUPE (local 703) representative Leslie Franklin, who was speaking from her chair at the bargaining table. “We’re still talking.”
The two sides had all but reached an impasse, but set aside the first three days of this week for talks. By the end of Wednesday, the question of job action will be answered.
Teachers will not cross the union picket line, and George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, in support of CUPE.
“At some point, CUPE has to take a stand and say ‘here’s our deadline.’” said Serra.
CUPE represents teacher’s assistants, custodial staff, clerical workers and a variety of other employees in the school system.
They have been without a raise for four years, and their contract expired more than a year ago. A strike vote in June resulted in a mandate for job action, and in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows the vote was 97 per cent in favour of striking.
A release on the CUPE website offered a foreboding message: “… if the B.C. Liberal government doesn’t drop its demands for contract concessions, CUPE members will have no choice but to stage a full-scale province-wide strike,” said CUPE B.C. President Mark Hancock.
“Our members have been patient, and our negotiators have been patient,” added Hancock. “And no one knows the potential impact of job action on parents and students better than our members in the K-12 sector.”
He said the government’s most recent contract offer is for less than a zero per cent increase, while other provincial sector unions have received increases of two or more per cent.
Parents have been frustrated by job action in the school system in recent years. Teachers have sometimes been accused of playing politics in negotiations between the BCTF and the Liberal government. The BCTF openly backs the B.C. NDP. But Serra said the CUPE negotiations vindicate the BCTF in their poor labour relations with the Liberals. He said the party simply does not like unions.
“They have a hate-on for any middle-class, blue-collar worker,” he said. “It’s rollbacks for the working people, and wage hikes for the CEOs.”
If the province does give CUPE a raise, there is presently no money in the local school board budget to fund it. The board had to wrestle with a funding shortfall it calculated at $5.6 million. Under the province’s Cooperative Gains Mandate, boards across the province would have to find funds in their budget to pay for the increase, as the government says it will give no new money.