Seventy-two hour strike notice has been served by CUPE Local 523 representing education workers of three Okanagan school districts. The potential job action would occur in School District 53 (Okanagan Similkameen), School District 67(Okanagan Skaha), and School District 83(North Okanagan Shuswap).
In a press release issued Thursday, November 28 by by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, reasons for the strike vote stemmed from the bargaining committee’s frustration over the employer group’s demand for a concession to claw back long term disability savings. The three school districts bargain together and have a single collective agreement with the approximately 1,150 members of CUPE Local 523.
“I find it incredibly disrespectful for these employers to deny workers the opportunity to improve their outdated benefit plans,” said CUPE Local 523 Bargaining Committee spokesperson Rob Hewitt. “The union has clearly demonstrated that by allocating some clearly identified savings towards those improvements, in accordance with the cooperative gains mandate, it would still result in a savings to the districts.”
The B.C. Governments’ “cooperative gains mandate” allows the parties to find savings within the collective agreement in order to provide improvements to benefits. The three Okanagan School Districts have saved on premiums they paid for a top up to the long term disability plan which is no longer required due to the Public Education Benefits Trust now improving the benefit.
“What has brought us to a strike position is the fact this employer is nickel and diming workers needing benefit improvements in school districts running substantial surpluses,” said Hewitt. “We are not talking about very much money, but that’s the point. These school districts are running surpluses, and our members are some the lowest paid public sector workers. We deserve a fair deal.”
School District 53 (Okanagan Similkameen) is running a $5M surplus, School District 67(Okanagan Skaha) a $15M surplus, and School District 83 (North Okanagan Shuswap) a $20M surplus.
“The cost of the improvements we are seeking is approximately $65,000,” added Hewitt. “Based on these districts’ budgets this is a small amount, but for our members who depend on these benefits it means a lot.”
School District 53 Superintendent Bev Young said, “The parties are scheduled to continue bargaining on Monday,” in response to a query sent by the Review Thursday afternoon.