After seven rounds of bargaining, support workers in the Campbell River School District have ratified a new collective agreement.
Members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 723 have been without a collective agreement since June 30. Local bargaining began on March 19.
CUPE 723 President Andrea Craddock said the deal, which was signed on Oct. 19, is just the beginning of better employment conditions for members.
“This was a challenging round of bargaining,” she said. “We’re happy that we did make some small gains and that we didn’t lose anything at the bargaining table this time, but had hoped to do better.”
Among the gains are paid time for clerical staff and educational assistants (EAs) who work less than seven hours a day to attend monthly staff meetings, elementary level education assistants getting an additional 15 minutes a day, and School District 72 agreeing to a Job Evaluation (JE) Pilot. They also spent time adjusting the language in the collective agreement to make it easier to read.
“We made a start and are pleased the employer agreed to sign the request for the JE Pilot as this will potentially bring improvements to all departments within the local,” said Craddock.
The JE will be a valuable bargaining tool moving forward, she said, “to fairly represent how that job should be recognized both in terms of description of tasks and wage and hours.”
Craddock said it’s her understanding that SD72 is one of the last districts in the province to sign on to the JE.
In this round of bargaining, educational assistants, the largest group in CUPE 723, were in the spotlight.
Craddock said she’d hoped more gains could be made regarding the number of hours educational assistants in the district work.
“Even though educational assistants have a decent wage, it’s the hour issue that is concerning that they’re not able to pay the bills with what they’re doing,” said Craddock. She said some educational assistants are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and something needs to change to make the Campbell River School District more competitive in the educational assistant job market.
“We are having retention and recruitment issues in School District 72 for our educational assistants,” she said. “Unless we do compete with neighbouring districts, that is going to continue to be a problem.”
Craddock said there’s also a shortage of casual education assistants.
“Which means people don’t get replaced when they’re sick, people go to work sick because they don’t want to leave the schools short and they don’t want it to impact students being able to attend,” she said. “People are burning out because they’re staying at work when they shouldn’t be and they’re asked to take on bigger work loads as a result of not having enough educational assistants to go around.”
In the past, bargaining has centred around specific departments and Craddock is interested to see what ends up being the focus for the next round of bargaining.
“I certainly believe that EA hours will continue to be an issue, but every department within the school district is needing more staff, is having trouble recruiting new people for casual positions,” she said. “Going forward, we’re hoping to make some more gains. We’ll see in three years where we’re at.”