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Parents worried about possibility of school strike



Local CUPE contract expired two years ago, but board says settlement near

CUPE school support workers in the Howe Sound district are still without a contract and have been now for nearly two years.

The three-year contract between Local 779 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and School District 48 expired Dec. 31, 1998, and parents have begun expressing concern at recent PAC meetings about the potential for a strike.

The school board, however, says a settlement with CUPE workers could be reached early in the new year.

"There won’t be any labour disruption," said assistant secretary-treasurer John Hetherington.

"We are very close. We have just got a couple of little things to sort out. We will probably finish off in early January," he said.

"We can’t really comment on what the outstanding issues are at this point but there is nothing too contentious."

The two sides last met formally in September this year. Hetherington said another meeting will likely be scheduled for January.

"Potentially it could happen before that but with Christmas approaching, it is not easy to pin people down."

The Howe Sound district was lucky to avoid labour action early this year when more than 20,000 CUPE members – including bus drivers, custodians, noon hour supervisors, clerical support staff, crossing guards, special needs and youth and cultural workers, maintenance workers, library assistants, science and computer technicians and food services workers – walked off the job leaving 350,000 B.C. kids without classes.

Because of where they were in their bargaining process, members of the Howe Sound local were not in a legal position to join the strike, but the labour strife resulted in the appointment of an Industrial Inquiry Commission.

The recommendations of that first IIC were rejected by CUPE in March this year. This was followed by back-to-work legislation and the establishment of a second Industrial Inquiry Commission, or IIC2.

The recommendations of that second IIC, made public in June, were endorsed by almost all CUPE locals in the province.

The next step was to implement those recommendations.

The recommendations of the IIC2 satisfied CUPE concerns with key job security issues such as secondary seniority. It also recommended the application of a four-hour minimum work day for teaching assistants. Wage increases, pay equity resolutions and a benefits trust were also addressed.

School district secretary-treasurer, Nancy Edwards, said in October that the implementation of that agreement is what is currently being negotiated at the Howe Sound table.

"Our most recent negotiations have been around things like the four-hour minimum and whether there will be any positions exempt from it," noted Edwards.