VICTORIA – Education Minister Peter Fassbender says boards protesting the cost of a 3.5 per cent raise for school support should have known it was coming, but some opted to wait and hope for an NDP government to take over.
Fassbender said in an interview that school trustees have been working with the education ministry for months on "savings plans." They knew the B.C. Liberal government would not increase budgets to cover a raise for workers who haven't seen one in four years, and have been without a contract for more than a year.
"I think there was some hope on the part of some [trustees] that we would, with our backs to the wall perhaps, come up with additional dollars," Fasssbender said. "And the other reality, quite honestly, was that up until May 14 there was some anticipation that there was going to be a change of government."
Trustees around the province are grappling with added costs for contracts with 69 union locals representing education assistants, bus drivers, custodians and crossing guards. Mostly members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, support staff workers are currently voting on a two-year tentative agreement that is already more than halfway to expiring next June.
Union locals and boards of education must all vote to ratify the agreement by December for it to take effect. It includes a one per cent raise retroactive to July 1, another two per cent starting Feb. 1 and 0.5 per cent in May 2014.
Districts calculate costs from the deal to be more than $2 million in Vancouver, $700,000 in Chilliwack and proportional amounts in other districts, most of which have already cut services due to declining enrolment.
Fassbender said the support staff settlement meets the government's "cooperative gains" mandate imposed on all public service unions, because CUPE chose to accept a smaller raise and protect its ability to bank sick days.
The ministry's new chief negotiator, Peter Cameron, offered CUPE two per cent raises in each year, as other government workers have received, but the tradeoff was to give up accumulating unused sick days.
School support staff and teachers are the last provincial government unions to accept a "cooperative gains" contract. Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark have offered to fund raises for teachers, if they will agree to a long-term settlement.
Fassbender said the expired support staff contracts had to be dealt with first, and new negotiations with CUPE will have to begin soon.