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April 25, 2013

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‘Zero’ progress stalls K-12 talks

VANCOUVER – Provincial K-12 bargaining talks have broken down.  CUPE reports reaching “impasse” with the BC Public School Employers’ Association yesterday. 

CUPE BC K-12 coordinator Bill Pegler called Wednesday’s meeting “very disappointing.”  After giving BCPSEA every opportunity to come up with a savings plan, says Pegler, “the CUPE BC Presidents’ Council Bargaining Subcommittee was expecting a proposal that would give the workers who keep our schools clean, safe and inclusive a settlement in line with the rest of BC’s recent public-sector contracts.”

Instead, says CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council chair Colin Pawson, “it became very evident very quickly that they had no mandate to settle.  They offered us zero in terms of wages and zero in terms of job security, and that is unacceptable for workers who have been without a wage increase since 2009.” 

Local-level talks at many of the 57 CUPE school districts are also breaking down. More than 14 CUPE locals have now passed strike votes and more are scheduled for next week and next month.  The problem, says Pawson, is the provincial government. “The school boards simply have no way to bargain meaningfully – their hands have been tied by chronic underfunding and the BC Liberals’ arbitrary imposition of a new Net Zero Mandate.” 

Provincial K-12 bargaining began last November on behalf of 27,000 CUPE education workers. BCPSEA came to the bargaining table 14 times and only managed to approve one minor housekeeping item. In February, CUPE K-12 leaders set up a meeting with BC Education Minister Don McRae, but came away shaking their heads. “It’s about respect for the work we do,” says Pawson, “and so far we’ve gotten zero from this government.”

“We clearly warned the minister that constructive action was needed to avoid the possibility of a major confrontation with K-12 workers. Apparently he didn’t heed that advice,” says Pawson.

CUPE says the plan now is for a meeting of all CUPE K-12 local presidents to discuss next steps. 


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