BC VIEWS: Back to school labour disputes

CUPE has done a great job portraying its school workforce as a low-wage ghetto. Problem is, that's not true.

CUPE and other government unions rally in support of striking teachers in 2012. CUPE may be next to target public schools.

VICTORIA – Another school year dawns in B.C., with the prospect of disruptive labour disputes.

First up are 27,000 support staff, in a legal strike position. These are the teacher aides, custodians, bus drivers and crossing guards. Most are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, with a few Teamsters and other locals scattered around the 60 school districts.

Public discussion about these disputes usually focuses on wage increases, which CUPE members in schools haven’t seen for four years. Their current deals expired more than a year ago, after they were subject to the same two-year wage freeze imposed on the rest of government.

The B.C. government moved from the post-recession wage freeze to a system they call “co-operative gains,” where raises must be financed by savings in other areas of the operation. Only two provincial employee groups have yet to do this: school support staff and teachers.

(Education Minister Peter Fassbender confirmed last week that teacher raises will be funded by extra transfers from the provincial treasury as they try to get a long-term deal. But that’s a topic for another day.)

CUPE, the largest union in the country, has a sophisticated media campaign to generate public sympathy. We are repeatedly reminded not only that the last raise was 2009, but that the “average” pay is a mere $24,000 a year. If that number is accurate, it reflects a large number of part-timers.

Let’s look at a few provisions CUPE doesn’t talk about, on behalf of those self-employed taxpayers who have no paid holidays, no employer pension or benefits and no paid overtime, but are expected to help pay all of the above to government workers.

The 60 contracts have many variations, but core elements are the same. In the Central Okanagan school district, the starting CUPE wage rate is $17.37 an hour. The top rate is $26.59, or $28.78 for workers who qualify for a “trades adjustment.”

All contracts have rigid seniority and “bumping” clauses to ensure that new employees absorb any reductions in working hours. From a taxpayer’s perspective, this leads to the maximum number of employees making the highest wages.

Overtime in Central Okanagan is time and a half for the first two hours, and double time after that. Contracts also include the provision that unscheduled overtime is subject to a four-hour minimum. It’s amazing how often an unexpected hour of work can arise when it’s paid at quadruple time.

The Surrey school district contract details how even “spare board” employees are to be enrolled in the municipal pension plan, a defined-benefit system most private-sector employees can only dream about.

Then there are paid sick days. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation reports that the average B.C. private sector worker took 7.4 sick days last year. The public sector average was 12.

The Surrey contract details the windfall of unused sick days that must be paid out to employees who retire as early as age 55. The maximum is 150 days, for a lavish perk only available to employees hired before July 1, 1996. Even so, we’ll be paying these bonuses out for years to come.

It goes on and on. Six weeks’ paid vacation after 20 years, with an extra day added for every year after that.

There are many little things, such as a $60 “swimsuit allowance” for teacher aides who take part in swimming instruction.

This is not to devalue the work done by these people. It is to suggest that given the growing gap between public and private employment benefits, finding savings is reasonable.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com. Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Drivesmart column: Mandatory alcohol screening

If you have to drive, don’t drink. If you drink, don’t drive.

Mary Lowther column: Time to plan the winter garden

Weeds have gotten away on me, I’ve just finished laying out my soaker hoses

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Sarah Simpson Column: Finding nature at home

It was time to call in reinforcements.

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1

Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Missing teen visiting Courtenay found safe

She had last been seen going for a walk on Aug. 6

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Fitness non-profit challenges citizens to invent a game to be physically active

The campaign was launched after a study showed only 4.8 per cent of children and youths in Canada met required standards of the 24-hour movement guidelines

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

Most Read