Support Staff Bargaining Questions & Answers - Nov 13, 2019

This document has been prepared by the school district to provide clarification on important contextual matters related to Support Staff bargaining.

The school district and the union had previously worked with the assistance of a mediator. Can the mediator be brought back in to work with the parties?

The district is prepared to work with the assistance of the mediator again. It is important to note that the mediator has to work within the provincial public sector bargaining mandate and in order for mediation to be successful the union would need to acknowledge that it is prepared to work within the mandate.

Is wage disparity a Saanich issue or a provincial issue?

Addressing wage disparity is an important priority for both CUPE 441 and the school district. This is also an issue that impacts many school districts across the province. Wage disparity is both a Saanich issue and a provincial issue.

The combination of circumstances in Saanich, including our close proximity to neighbouring districts with higher wages, may be unique. However, every school district is distinct. There are other school districts in the province, such as those in remote locations, where lower wages are having a far greater impact on the district’s ability to recruit and retain qualified employees. The reality is that many other school districts would say that, in comparison to Saanich, they have greater recruitment and retention challenges as a result of wage disparity.

Wage disparity is a provincial issue. For this reason, the provincial parties (BCPSEA and The K-12 Presidents’ Council and Support Staff Unions, including CUPE) have agreed (within the Provincial Framework Agreement – clause 7) to work together through a Provincial Job Evaluation (JE) Committee to evaluate and begin to address wage disparity over the life of the three-year term of the collective agreement.

The evaluation of jobs to create provincial benchmarks (reflecting variation in duties and responsibilities) is a significant undertaking, and is necessary before implementation. The Saanich School District has volunteered to be one of the first pilot districts in this Provincial Job Evaluation process (which began during the term of the last collective agreement) because of the importance of this issue for our district.

The district is addressing the issue of wage disparity to the fullest extent possible in this round of bargaining with the funding approved for local bargaining and through wage increases differentiated in relation to known wage disparity. The union’s bargaining team is proposing that wage disparity in Saanich be fully addressed in this round of local bargaining. This is not something the district is able to do in isolation of the Provincial Job Evaluation process that the provincial parties have underway.

As described above, the provincial parties have already agreed to a process to address this issue within the Provincial Framework Agreement, and K-12 support staff unions across the province are now ratifying local agreements within this framework. If an agreement is ratified by November 30th, CUPE Local 441 positions in the Saanich School District, along with all other K-12 public education unionized support staff positions in the province, will be part of this work. It is not possible for this issue to be addressed in only one school district, ahead of other districts that also have this issue.

The school district has addressed the issue of wage disparity in this round of local bargaining to the best extent possible and is committed to working through the Provincial Job Evaluation process agreed to in the Provincial Framework Agreement to further address wage disparity going forward.

What is being done provincially to address the issue of wage disparity?

While addressing wage disparity is a priority for both the union and the District, it is also a Provincial issue that impacts other support staff unions in the K-12 sector. For this reason, the Provincial parties agreed (within the Provincial Framework Agreement – clause 7) to work together through a Provincial Job Evaluation (JE) Committee to evaluate and begin to address wage disparity over the life of the three-year term of the collective agreement.

The evaluation of jobs to create provincial benchmarks is a significant undertaking, and is necessary before implementation. The Saanich School District has volunteered to be one of the first pilot districts in this process (which began during the term of the last collective agreement) because of the importance of this issue for our District.

How is the issue of wage disparity being addressed in this round of bargaining?

The District is addressing the issue of wage disparity to the fullest extent possible under the provincial bargaining mandate, through differentiated increases — in addition to the general wage increases — for all positions in the bargaining unit.

Wage disparity is also an issue that affects many school districts across the Province in addition to Saanich, and therefore requires a Provincial-level approach. Determining the degree of wage disparity is complicated by variation in job descriptions (duties and responsibilities) from district to district.  For example, while it is known that wages vary for similar positions in other school districts, it has not yet been established to what degree the job duties and responsibilities vary.

For these reasons, this issue is addressed within the Provincial Framework Agreement – clause 7 to ensure that this issue is addressed consistently and fairly throughout the Province.

When would the funding associated with the Job Evaluation Committee be available?

As outlined in the Provincial Framework Agreement – clause 7 disbursement of available funds to address wage differential for the positions falling the furthest below the wage rate established by the provincial JE process could commence as early as 2020 depending on the progress of the work.

Is the District speaking with the Ministry throughout the Strike?

Yes. There are daily conversations being held with the Ministry of Education, Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC) Secretariat and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA).

The consistent understanding amongst the parties listed above is that there will be no provincial intervention in relation to the strike and the only way to resolve the dispute is for the parties to return to the bargaining table and work within the parameters of the provincial mandate.

Will the District be able to keep the ‘savings’ from the strike?

No. Any funding that is not allocated as a result of the strike to the delivery or support of public sector education will be returned to the provincial government.

Why is the Employer proposing the elimination of Article 28.07 – Legislation?

The elimination of Article 28.07 will permit the Employer to turn the funding of $251,912 associated with MSP savings into ongoing wage increases for all members, with differentiated increases applied to those positions with the greatest wage discrepancy with neighbouring districts.

Without the elimination of Article 28.07, and similar to what occurred through arbitration in 2018 when the first half of the MSP premium was reduced, any savings would be paid  to members through a one-time payout.

The elimination of Article 28.07 will permit the Employer to apply the savings on a go forward and continual basis. This proposal has enabled the Employer to provide wage increases between 0.89% and 1.78% to all support staff positions in excess of the 6% general wage increases provided under the provincial public sector bargaining mandate.

What is the provincial government public sector bargaining mandate?

The provincial government has historically established a bargaining mandate for public sector collective bargaining given its accountability to taxpayers for setting spending priorities and service levels, and for development of the provincial budget. Public sector employers, including school district employers in the K-12 public education sector, are required to negotiate a collective agreement within the prevailing public sector bargaining mandate.

What is the Provincial Framework Agreement?

The Provincial Framework Agreement (PFA) for K-12 support staff provides provincial-level agreement on compensation as well as other key sector matters, and sets the “framework” inside which local bargaining occurs. The provincial parties (BCPSEA and The K-12 Presidents’ Council and Support Staff Unions, including CUPE) endorsed the PFA in September 2018 following negotiations within the provincial public sector bargaining mandate. As the School District and CUPE 441 are parties to the PFA, the employer and union are required to bargain within the parameters set by the PFA.

Has the school district accessed all funding available under the Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate (the provincial public sector bargaining mandate)?

Yes. The Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate applies to all public sector employers with unionized employees whose collective agreements expired on or after December 31, 2018. It sets the foundation for bargaining throughout the public sector.  The Provincial Framework Agreement (PFA) was negotiated within this mandate and local bargaining occurs within this mandate.  The employer’s proposals have accessed the maximum funding available under this mandate.

It’s important to understand that the Service Improvement Allocation (SIA) under the mandate, which as referenced in the PFA is “funding to the local support staff tables for service enhancements that are beneficial to students and as otherwise consistent with the 2019 Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate…” has been fully utilized by the District in its offer, and would provide an additional 1.53% increase to staff in eight of our Educational Assistant job families.

Why would an additional general wage increase for the Saanich School District trigger increases across the public sector?

All of the public sector agreements (including the K-12 Provincial Framework Agreement – Appendix B) contain language that would provide for an adjustment of wages in the event any other public sector employer enters into an agreement that provides for a general wage increase of more than the 6% provincial mandate. This means that a general wage increase in Saanich in excess of the 6% mandate would potentially see 330,000 public sector unionized employees receiving the same increase.

According to the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat, a 1% increase in total compensation for all employees within the public sector would cost the province approximately $304 million dollars (Public Sector Bargaining Mandates and Agreements).

Why have I heard of other Unions being able to bargain outside of the mandate (such as the Community Subsector Collective Agreement) in Healthcare?

The parties to that agreement did not negotiate outside of the provincial mandate. A low wage redress component was negotiated INSTEAD of the Service Improvement Allocation money and was directed to a targeted group of positions, not for all employees. As noted above, the District has fully utilized the Service Improvement Allocation money in its offer, in order to provide an additional 1.53% increase to staff in eight of our Educational Assistant job families (this increase and other increases are over and above the general wage increases of 6% over the three-year term of the PFA).

Do the employer’s proposals address the priority of wage disparity?

Yes.  The employer’s proposal distributes the maximum funding available in the Provincial Framework Agreement and the collective agreement to reduce wage disparity with neighbouring school districts.

The district has proposed allocation of funding within the collective agreement related to the reduction of MSP, as well as additional funding available within the PFA, to provide wage increases for all support staff employees in excess of the general wage increase of 6% over three years within the PFA.

These overall wage increases are differentiated in relation to wage disparities to our neighbouring school districts. For example, wage increases are greatest for Education Assistants and range between 11.1% and 12.8% compounded over the life of the collective agreement.

Is the offer on the table from the employer time-sensitive?

Yes.  Certain employer proposals are time-sensitive.

Clause 17 in the Provincial Framework Agreement states: “The rights and obligations of the local parties under this Provincial Framework Agreement (PFA) are of no force or effect unless the collective agreement has been ratified by both parties no later than November 30, 2019.”

If a collective agreement is not ratified before November 30, 2019, many of the provisions available under the PFA will no longer be available to the parties in local bargaining.  These include, but are not limited to, funding for local bargaining (Clause 3); and participation in and associated funding for Provincial Job Evaluation (Clause 7).

If an agreement is not ratified before November 30, 2019, funding for one of the employer’s wage proposals will no longer be available.