A Greater Victoria School District CUPE union has voted down a contract with the Ministry of Education, which could throw a wrench into negotiated CUPE wage hikes across the province.
CUPE local 947, which represents clerical and information technology staff and education assistants in SD 61, rejected a contract Wednesday night that included a 3.5 per cent wage hike, but in exchange for a weaker benefits package that had a cut in coverage for medication costs.
“I’m proud of them. They turned down a wage increase to protect a handful of people who regularly need medications. This is the core of unionization,” said Brad Hall, president of CUPE local 947.
“I was surprised. It wasn’t until they handed me the numbers that I realized it had been turned down. That doesn’t happen often.”
Members voted 137-61 against the contract. Local 947 represents 800 school district employees.
The CUPE provincial bargaining committee and the CUPE B.C. K-12 Presidents’ Council endorsed the wage hike and benefit reduction in September. Hall said at least 20 of 57 B.C. locals have voted in favour of the contract, and the remainder are voting in upcoming weeks.
“The provincial bargaining committee came in with this tradeoff. The president’s council has been around for 12 or 13 years and haven’t faced this yet,” he said, referring to a lone local voting against a provincially-negotiated contract.
“In my opinion, the presidents’ council is all for one and one for all. If one turns it down … the council needs to go back to the bargaining table.”
A representative for the provincial CUPE office wasn’t immediately available.
The Ministry of Education has given school boards and CUPE locals until Dec. 20 to ratify a contract.
Hall said it’s unclear why the Ministry of Education is adamant about reducing a benefit package he said has no cost savings from the previous contract.
“There’s been no explanation (from the ministry). It’s just take it or leave it,” he said. “We’ve asked the government, if there’s no cost different why does it matter at all? I’ve been asking for two months and all we get back is ‘no.’ It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Local 947 is waiting to see how other locals vote before figuring out a next step. “At present we are not planning for a strike. We want to see how the other voting goes,” Hall said.