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Layoff notices draw criticism

Union criticizes school district decision to eliminate day custodian shifts
Marcel Marsolais
CUPE Local 409 president Marcel Marsolais addresses trustees at a June 30 school board meeting.

CUPE Local 409 is criticizing the New Westminster school district for its decision to eliminate day custodian positions in favour of afternoon shifts.

Nine school custodians received layoff notices last week; all were classified as day custodians.

From 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., they currently clean messes when needed, restock bathrooms and conduct day-to-day maintenance. They are responsible for opening schools every morning.

But come September, New Westminster will no longer have custodians in its schools before 3 p.m., and the remaining nine day workers will move to afternoon shifts.

“There’s no forethought on how this is going to work, and there never is because the decisions are made at the board-office level, which is where they have a whole bunch of bean counters sitting in a room figuring that a mathematical formula is going to work and address the needs of the students and the staff,” said Marcel Marsolais, president of CUPE Local 409, which represents the district’s support staff, including clerical workers, education assistants and custodians.

Marsolais, along with a group of CUPE Local 409 workers descended on last Tuesday’s school board meeting. The crowd of about 40 was there to pressure trustees in hopes the district would reconsider getting rid of the daytime custodians.

“We’re the second largest employee group in the district, but we’re shrinking all the time,” Marsolais later told the Record.

Marsolais said he’s frustrated because while the district continues to cut back on CUPE staff positions, it’s hiring additional administrative staff and managers. The 2016/17 preliminary budget includes several new positions including a communications officer and a buyer for the district.

“We have more people working at the board office than ever before. We’ve got two extra exempt people working in human resources; we’ve got an extra manager for the maintenance facilities department; they just created that a few months back,” Marsolais said.

But superintendent Pat Duncan was adamant no custodians were losing their jobs; in fact, the district is adding one full-time position when Fraser River Middle School opens in the fall. He added the layoff notices were a formality that’s required of the local’s collective agreement anytime someone’s position is changed.

“We have to be very careful on the language we use, because some people say it’s cuts, but it’s not cuts,” Duncan said.  

The changes to the custodian shifts, he added, are changes that other districts across the province have already adopted and are not a cost-saving measure.

“There will still be a daytime custodian at New Westminster high school,” he said.

It’ll be up to the principal or vice-principal to open the schools each day, he added.

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