BC VIEWS: Back to school labour disputes

CUPE has done a great job portraying its school workforce as a low-wage ghetto. Problem is, that's not true.

CUPE and other government unions rally in support of striking teachers in 2012. CUPE may be next to target public schools.

VICTORIA – Another school year dawns in B.C., with the prospect of disruptive labour disputes.

First up are 27,000 support staff, in a legal strike position. These are the teacher aides, custodians, bus drivers and crossing guards. Most are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, with a few Teamsters and other locals scattered around the 60 school districts.

Public discussion about these disputes usually focuses on wage increases, which CUPE members in schools haven’t seen for four years. Their current deals expired more than a year ago, after they were subject to the same two-year wage freeze imposed on the rest of government.

The B.C. government moved from the post-recession wage freeze to a system they call “co-operative gains,” where raises must be financed by savings in other areas of the operation. Only two provincial employee groups have yet to do this: school support staff and teachers.

(Education Minister Peter Fassbender confirmed last week that teacher raises will be funded by extra transfers from the provincial treasury as they try to get a long-term deal. But that’s a topic for another day.)

CUPE, the largest union in the country, has a sophisticated media campaign to generate public sympathy. We are repeatedly reminded not only that the last raise was 2009, but that the “average” pay is a mere $24,000 a year. If that number is accurate, it reflects a large number of part-timers.

Let’s look at a few provisions CUPE doesn’t talk about, on behalf of those self-employed taxpayers who have no paid holidays, no employer pension or benefits and no paid overtime, but are expected to help pay all of the above to government workers.

The 60 contracts have many variations, but core elements are the same. In the Central Okanagan school district, the starting CUPE wage rate is $17.37 an hour. The top rate is $26.59, or $28.78 for workers who qualify for a “trades adjustment.”

All contracts have rigid seniority and “bumping” clauses to ensure that new employees absorb any reductions in working hours. From a taxpayer’s perspective, this leads to the maximum number of employees making the highest wages.

Overtime in Central Okanagan is time and a half for the first two hours, and double time after that. Contracts also include the provision that unscheduled overtime is subject to a four-hour minimum. It’s amazing how often an unexpected hour of work can arise when it’s paid at quadruple time.

The Surrey school district contract details how even “spare board” employees are to be enrolled in the municipal pension plan, a defined-benefit system most private-sector employees can only dream about.

Then there are paid sick days. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation reports that the average B.C. private sector worker took 7.4 sick days last year. The public sector average was 12.

The Surrey contract details the windfall of unused sick days that must be paid out to employees who retire as early as age 55. The maximum is 150 days, for a lavish perk only available to employees hired before July 1, 1996. Even so, we’ll be paying these bonuses out for years to come.

It goes on and on. Six weeks’ paid vacation after 20 years, with an extra day added for every year after that.

There are many little things, such as a $60 “swimsuit allowance” for teacher aides who take part in swimming instruction.

This is not to devalue the work done by these people. It is to suggest that given the growing gap between public and private employment benefits, finding savings is reasonable.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com. Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Rollin Art Centre open now

Make sure to renew your Community Arts Council membership

BCHL: Bulldogs take the ice after trade deadline

Alberni team picked up one loss, one win with new roster

Alberni’s Warren Lee earns second black belt

Lee is one of four Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belts in Canada

Maa-nulth Nations sign historic agreement with B.C.

Deal puts nations on level playing field with province in post-treaty talks

City of Port Alberni rehires Ken Watson

Former city manager back for short term

WATCH: Rainy days in the Alberni Valley

Showers are expected to continue for the next week

Winter storm coming to B.C. this weekend

The bets are on as to how much snow the province will actually get in the coming days

B.C. civil rights group files complaint about RCMP arrest of man who later died

Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Indigenous man was arrested in Prince George last July

Lawyer says former B.C. government aide ‘barely guilty’ in ethnic vote scandal

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to a breach of trust charge

Quite a few tears as homemade quilts distributed to residents of Ashcroft Reserve, Boston Flats affected by last summer’s fire

Quilters in B.C. and Alberta worked through the summer and fall to create more than 100 quilts.

Island Health: No need for alarm in wake of Victoria needle-prick incidents

Three incidents in a week prompts meeting between health authority, city service providers

B.C. coast loggers celebrate history, hope for improvement

Truck Loggers Association awaits B.C. NDP government’s new direction

Global Affairs aware of report of two Canadians kidnapped in Nigeria

The foreigners were heading south from Kafanchan to Abuja when they were ambushed around Kagarko

Whistler role in potential Calgary Olympic bid would be welcome: IOC

Calgary is mulling whether to vie for the 2026 Games, and could look to facilities in B.C.

Most Read