Comox Valley students will head back to the classrooms next week, and unlike last year, the possibility of picket lines at schools is looming this fall.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) education members started bargaining talks last spring, and talks broke down a number of times since then. Though provincial bargaining is expected to start up again in early September, all CUPE locals representing education workers — education assistants, clerical staff, trades, custodians, bus drivers and other education workers — have voted in favour of strike action.
The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has pledged support for CUPE to obtain a negotiated settlement, so Comox District Teachers’ Association president Steve Stanley points out teachers will not cross CUPE workers’ picket lines if a strike happens, meaning teachers would not be teaching in schools.
Comox Valley School District superintendent Sherry Elwood says the situation should be more clear within the next couple of weeks, but either way, the district will manage.
“We will manage it like we always do,” she says. “We have a good relationship with our CUPE colleagues here. We don’t anticipate that — whatever happens, job action, not job action — that that would change our relationship with them at all. And we certainly will manage and respect whatever decisions our CUPE local makes around job action.”
Meanwhile, teacher bargaining is expected to start up again at the beginning of this school year, possibly in September, according to Stanley, as the last legislated agreement expired in June. Stanley notes teachers feel uncertainty around what their bargaining process will look like.
“Over the summer the (education) minister dismissed the BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers’s Association) leaders and so there’s some uncertainty around what’s going to happen with bargaining and what the bargaining structure’s going to look like,” he says. “So that’s all parts that’ll be coming together hopefully in September.”
Education Minister Peter Fassbender dismissed the BC Public School Employers’s Association board of directors from its duties this summer, and tasked Michael Marchbank, CEO of the Health Employers’ Association of British Columbia, with its duties temporarily. According to the education ministry, Marchbank’s appointment will last until legislation is implemented to allow the bargaining process to be restructured, giving government a direct role in negotiations with the aim of reaching a long-term agreement with the BCTF.
Though Stanley says teachers feel uncertain, he adds they are hopeful a negotiated agreement will be reached.
“Hopefully, the government, when they do come to the bargaining table again, if they do, they’ll bring the resources they need to reach a settlement, something for salary, something for improvements, and certainly our class size and composition issues that we want them to deal with,” he says, noting teachers are “not anticipating anything at this point,” when asked about the possibility of teacher job action this school year.