Parents across the province are breathing a sigh of relief after a tentative two-year contract was reached between CUPE B.C. and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

Parents across the province are breathing a sigh of relief after a tentative two-year contract was reached between CUPE B.C. and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

Public school strike averted

Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association happy with the raise for support workers,

Parents across the province are breathing a sigh of relief after a tentative two-year contract was reached between CUPE B.C. and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association.

The deal halted a possible strike set for Monday, Sept. 23 by the 33,000 unionized public school staff.

On Tuesday, teachers across the province were warned of the possible job action, and vowed not to cross picket lines.

The two sides had been meeting and set a deadline of Wednesday, Sept. 18 to reach a deal.

CUPE B.C., which represents 27,000 of the set-to-strike workers, has tentatively agreed to a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years of the contract. Union members will get a one per cent retroactive raise  dating back to July 1, 2013, then a two per cent hike kicking in on Feb. 1, 2014, and another 0.5 per cent affective on May 1, 2014.

The deal expires on June 30, 2014.

“CUPE B.C.’s 27,000 education workers are vital to keeping our schools clean, safe and inclusive,” said CUPE B.C. president Mark Hancock, in a statement.

“I want to thank all 85,000 of our members across the province, and our K-12 members in particular, for their solidarity. It’s only because we held together that we were able to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract, despite demands for concessions from the government.”

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said while he’s happy with the raise for support workers, he is disappointed the government didn’t kick in new money for the deal. He said with no increases in school budgets, local school boards will have to make cuts to pay for the wage increase.

“I find it troubling that the government negotiated a settlement, but hasn’t provided any additional funding to cover the costs,” said Serra. “The only way to meet their budget will mean more cuts.”

Serra said some schools have been forced to cut full-time teacher librarians and increase class sizes because of the district’s budget shortfalls.

From initial reports, he’s also pleased to see the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association also back down off some of the concessions surrounding sick time.

He added the two-year term for CUPE members is also an indication of what is a realistic settlement between the government and teachers. Premier Christy Clark campaigned on the promise of a 10-year agreement with teachers. Serra said that idea seems unrealistic.

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.

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.