Striking Saanich school support workers reach tentative deal with school district

Saanich support workers picket outside one of the district's 18 schools.
Saanich support workers picket outside one of the district's 18 schools. Global News

Saanich schools will finally reopen on Monday after the district and 500 striking school support workers reached a tentative contract agreement Saturday morning.

The agreement, which was signed by both parties, will be presented to union members for a ratification vote on Sunday and likely bring a three-week strike to an end.

“I’m very happy to recommend this deal to our membership,” CUPE 441 president Dean Coates told Global News Saturday.

“We needed to do this in order to ensure we were able to meet the needs of our families and meet the needs of our students.”

Click to play video: 'Saanich schools support workers contract talks break off'
Saanich schools support workers contract talks break off

As a sign of good faith, the union is taking down all picket lines starting Monday, allowing all 18 schools that had been shut down throughout the strike to reopen.

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“We recognize that this has been an extremely frustrating and disruptive time for everyone, including our students and their families,” district superintendent Dave Eberwein said in a statement.

“We are extremely pleased to have our schools open once again and look forward to re-engaging with our community and providing quality public education.”

READ MORE: Horgan urges striking Saanich school support workers to take district’s ‘superior’ deal

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Coates would not discuss the contents of the deal as it has not yet been presented to all members.

It’s not clear if the deal is equal or similar to the one published in full by the school district earlier this month, which included a seven to 12.8 per cent wage increase and other measures.

B.C. Premier John Horgan waded into the dispute shortly afterwards, suggesting the union review and accept the “superior” deal.

Click to play video: 'Saanich schools closed for second straight day'
Saanich schools closed for second straight day

CUPE 441 represents 500 education assistants, technical support staff, library technicians, family counsellors, custodial and maintenance staff and others, who walked off the job on Oct. 28.

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Striking workers said they’re paid less than their counterparts in neighbouring school districts, a differential that ranged from 30 cents to $4 per hour.

The differential exists because the union opted for better benefits decades ago, according to the district. Those benefits have since been put in line with all other school districts in B.C.

READ MORE: Talks between striking support workers, Saanich School District break down, union says

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But the union said the existing wage difference was causing problems in recruiting and retaining staff.

The district had maintained it offered everything it could amid the province’s public sector wage cap of two per cent increase per year.

The dispute left parents of an estimated 7,300 students scrambling to find child care during the day, which also put a strain on local daycare staff.

READ MORE: Saanich schools to remain closed Monday as talks continue between workers, district

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Several rallies were held by parents who urged the two sides to reach a deal.

Teachers, whose respect of the support workers’ picket lines forced the school closures, rallied outside Education Minister Rob Fleming’s constituency office in Victoria Friday urging the government to step in.

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Fleming had said it was up to the two sides to negotiate a deal.

—With files from Srushti Gangdev

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