CUPE deal could cost Chilliwack school district $700,000

Tentative CUPE contract could mean job cuts for educational support workers in Chilliwack.

Chilliwack school district could be facing another $700,000 hit to its budget if the CUPE contract is approved.

The B.C. education ministry and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) tentatively reached an agreement last Thursday that would increase wages for educational support workers by 3.5 per cent.

The wage increase will be left to school districts to fund.

Gerry Slykhuis, secretary treasurer of Chilliwack school district, said that while the district is pleased a strike was avoided, the expense will be a significant blow to the bottom line, especially when added to the estimated $50,000 unexpected cost to the district for the upcoming byelection.

“Any new cost that we have to find in one place has to come from somewhere else,” said Slykhuis. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments somewhere to pay for that.”

Staffing will likely be impacted.

For the 2013-14 school year, salaries and benefits are costing the district $97,728,276. That amounts to 88 per cent of the budget.

“A big chunk of our budget is payroll related,” said Slykhuis. “It’s going to be hard to find that kind of a savings without having some kind of impact on staffing, either staff not getting hired or reductions.”

Staff layoffs is one of the many concerns Chilliwack CUPE 411 president Rod Isaac expressed in light of this deal.

Despite the positive spin put on the contract by CUPE’s bargaining committee, Isaac, whose local membership voted 94 per cent in favour of striking in April, was not impressed with the agreement.

“Even at a 3.5 per cent wage increase over two years, we still continue to fall behind the cost of living; that’s not acceptable to our members, it really isn’t,” Isaac said.

“There is nothing that CUPE does that does not affect students. Every single one of our jobs has an effect on student learning one way or another, and for the government to tell school boards they have to fund it from within, I thought that was just awful… an absolute slap in the face.”

CUPE represents more than 27,000 education workers in B.C.’s public school system, including bus drivers, maintenance workers, tradespeople, custodians, school secretaries, clerical staff and educational assistants.

If approved, the agreement’s term is retroactive from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014. The 3.5 per cent wage increase will be paid out in increments of one per cent on July 1 of this year, two per cent on Feb. 1, 2014, and 0.5 per cent on May 1, 2014.

As well, the agreement will also introduce a pay direct card for medical expenses.

The school district is actively trying to identify areas for cost savings that would minimize the impact on education and staffing, “but those kinds of savings aren’t going to get us everything we need,” said Slykhuis. “We’re going to have to dig somewhere.”

A plan of action on how the school district will fund the wage increase must be submitted to the ministry of education by Oct. 15.