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School support staff set to vote on contract

While teachers and the government slug it out over a pay increase, members of the union representing support workers in schools are voting this week to accept the B.C. Liberals' net-zero mandate, which means no raises for public sector employees.

While teachers and the government slug it out over a pay increase, members of the union representing support workers in schools are voting this week to accept the B.C. Liberals' net-zero mandate, which means no raises for public sector employees.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 409 will vote Thursday on whether to join the 11 school districts that have already signed on for a two-year collective agreement with the Public School Employers' Association.

Teachers are still in the bargaining phase of their contract negotiations and are asking for a 15 per cent wage increase.

"Of course, we support the teachers," said CUPE local 409 president Marcel Marsolais. "Good luck to them. I don't think they are going to break the mandate. Seventy-five per cent of the public sector hasn't, and it's not that there isn't a need - especially in our sector.

"For the most part, we don't make big bucks here," Marsolais said, referring to his members. "For the majority of my members, we don't have the big goldplated pension that everybody's reported, this whole global perception that the right-wing is creating. They just don't have that. In fact, the average pension is $22,000 per year."

But it isn't all bad news, Marsolais said.

"In other areas we are fortunate," he said. "When it comes to job security, we've managed to hold on to all of the jobs and all of the positions. Nothing's been contracted out, unlike the health sector, and we hold onto benefits."

The deal, which runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2012, includes: no concessions for CUPE members; $7.5 million in new, ongoing funding to recognize and correct unpaid work for education assistants from the government's class organization fund; $550,000 in new funding for the support staff education and adjustment committee for skills enhancement; $200,000 in financial support to solidify a framework for provincial bargaining; CUPE gaining access to sector demographic and classification information for research purposes; and a wage reopener clause in case the public sector net-zero wage mandate changes over the life of the agreement.

The union represents 26,000 school support staff in British Columbia. Each CUPE local union will now take this provincial agreement to their local table.

Marsolais expects results of the New Westminster ratification vote to be determined Thursday night.

nhope@royalcityrecord.com