Education unions are closing in on new contracts.
Two of the School District 57 unions came to tentative agreements early this week. Both are CUPE locals - 4991 representing maintenance staff and 3742 representing various professions from clerical to teaching assistants to custodians and more - and both reached possible pacts on Tuesday with SD57 negotiators. In addition to "local housekeeping items," said one representative, both branches got identical wage increase offers of 3.5 per cent over two years. Neither had received raises in several years.
"We actually ratified the agreement. Our members voted on it within a day of the offer," said Brian Trotter, an electrician and president of local 4991. "We only have 49 members, one is in Valemount and the rest are in Prince George, so it was easy for us to do."
"We are taking our proposal forward to our membership, and because we have so many members spread all over this very large district, we will have our voting over two days," said Karen Wong, president of local 3742. Prince George members will vote on Nov. 14 and those in McBride, Mackenzie and Valemount will vote Nov. 15.
Despite feeling relieved at the raise, both locals expressed anger over the pocket their raise gets pulled from.
"The province agreed to the increase, but it has to come out of the local school district's own budget," said Wong. "That is not what we wanted. We wanted the increase, our members deserve it, but we are always concerned about our local students and school programs. This should have been paid for directly from Victoria to protect those local budgets."
Trotter estimates his local alone will cost the district about $105,000 for the raises. The wages for Wong's local are not as high as the trades but there are about 820 members working a wide range of schedules and professions. The district's bill will be significant, and there is more to come. With two-year deals, the next contracts' negotiation processes will start again only a few months from now.
"The local district's negotiators are good people," said Wong. "They are respectful, fair, equitable, but their hands are tied on any issue tied to money. They have to take all money issues to the provincial table. Yet the province makes the local table find the money in their own budget. That isn't right."
"It is a poor way to bargain, provincially," said Trotter. "The government makes all the negotiation rules, so you are stuck. We have to go along with pretty much whatever they want."