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Saanich school strike officially over as support workers ratify contract agreement

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

After three weeks of school closures in Saanich, the union representing school support workers ratified a new contract deal Sunday to officially bring the strike to an end.

CUPE 441 members voted 84 per cent in favour of the latest deal from the Saanich School District, which includes general wage increases of two per cent per year for the three-year contract.

Union president Dean Coates said with the deal officially ratified, schools will reopen for classes on Monday for the first time since workers walked out on Oct. 28.

“We had a long meeting, lots of great discussion,” he said. “We’re pleased that we were able to ratify this agreement that we believe meets our needs and the needs of our students.”

READ MORE: Striking Saanich school support workers reach tentative deal with school district

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The union said the agreement brings the salaries of the district’s 500 education assistants, technical support staff, library technicians, family counsellors, custodial and maintenance staff and others to — or significantly close to — wage parity with other districts.

It also includes the establishment of a recruitment and retention working group that will meet on a regular basis, and include members of the union and the district.

Coates confirmed the deal is largely similar to the one put forward by the district earlier this month, but includes assurances on job evaluation money included in the provincial framework agreement.

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

He acknowledged while not everyone was happy with the deal at the end of the four-hour-long meeting, he said the union was happy with the agreement overall.

“You can’t have everyone in agreement with 500 people,” he said. “But it does have some significant changes to what the previous offer was.”

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Coates said he will be approaching the district with the results of the vote on Monday and will offer the union’s services to help get classes back on track after the three-week break.

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The agreement ratified on Sunday was tentatively agreed to by both sides Saturday, effectively ending the strike that saw 7,300 students miss school.

Teachers refused to cross the support workers’ picket lines around the district’s 18 schools, but urged both sides to reach a deal and called on the province to intervene.

B.C. Premier John Horgan had suggested the union take the district’s “superior” offer, while Education Minister Rob Fleming refused to wade into the dispute.

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

The striking workers had said they were paid less than their counterparts in neighbouring school districts, a differential that ranged from 30 cents to $4 per hour.

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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.

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.

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