Union, ministry send mixed signals on New West school support staff bargaining

June post from union suggests deal was all but signed, ministry now says parties still working to reach tentative deal

The Province of B.C. and New Westminster’s school support staff union have sent mixed messages on the status of collective bargaining as the 2019/20 school year draws close.

A B.C. Finance Ministry spokesperson said bargaining is still underway with CUPE Local 409, and the parties “continue to work to reach a tentative agreement,” but declined to comment further on the matter as negotiations continue.

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But the statement appears to be in contradiction to a June 14 post on the CUPE 409 website, which said negotiators reached a tentative deal in mid-June, and anticipated ratification from all parties by the end of the month.

CUPE 409 president Marcel Marsolais, who has not responded to a request for comment, is quoted in the post saying the agreement “is superior to any of the other settlements we were able to achieve since 2000.”

“Our bargaining committee is recommending that our members vote to ratify the agreement.”

An update to the post, dated June 25, says that is just what happened – at least, on the part of the union. The post adds that the bargaining committee had not yet heard confirmation from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, the government's bargaining unit in negotiations with public education unions.

But the post goes as far as to include a PDF listing all the contract changes in that agreement – though it’s not clear where any of those changes will stand when a deal is officially signed.

That includes annual two per cent raises – the government has mandated that no union negotiations will go higher than two per cent raises in any of the coming three years.

It also includes a provision allowing employees a full paid day off for funerals, where the current contract offers a half-day of paid leave for funerals. Employees would also be able to ask the secretary-treasurer to take leave for days of cultural significance.

Currently, when employees’ cars are vandalized on school properties or in the course of their work, those employees are reimbursed the cost of repair up to $100. The tentative agreement reportedly reached in June would bump that up to the cost of repair up to $300.

The union represents around 375 employees in K-12 education, including education support workers, custodians, crossing guards and noon-hour supervisors.

Local teachers are covered by the New Westminster Teachers’ Union, a local of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

While the B.C. government has announced contract ratification for some support workers’ unions – and the ministry says it anticipates more in the coming weeks – bargaining with the BCTF has run into roadblocks.

The main area of contention surrounds class size and composition, with B.C. teachers claiming the government is seeking concessions from the union.

The BCTF has indicated it does not intend to call a strike vote, but the issue has gone to mediation ahead of the school year with hopes of resolving the matter.

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