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Deal averts strike at Shuswap schools

CUPE Local 523, which represents education workers in the North-Okanagan Shuswap School District, has issued 72-hour strike notice. If the situation is not resolved, it could result in school closures.  - Observer file photo
CUPE Local 523, which represents education workers in the North-Okanagan Shuswap School District, has issued 72-hour strike notice. If the situation is not resolved, it could result in school closures.
— image credit: Observer file photo

Job action has been avoided at North Okanagan-Shuswap schools this week.

CUPE Local 523 workers, who represent 1,150 custodians, bus drivers and other education support workers, were in a legal position to walk off the job Tuesday but a tentative contract was hammered out Monday.

“I think all sides are pleased we have reached an agreement and can avoid a disruption to students,” said Superintendent Glenn Borthistle following the announcement of the tentative deal.

The school district had issued a notice to parents Monday advising them of the possibility of strike action on Tuesday and suggesting parents may need to make alternate child-care arrangements.

A strike action would have disrupted classes, as the union representing B.C. Teachers would not have crossed picket lines.

News of the agreement was released Monday evening, so schools operated as normal Tuesday.

CUPE Local 523 said the sticking points  in negotiating revolved around clawbacks to long-term disability benefits, although the school district disputed this point.

“It was a hard day for everyone but everyone put their heads together and found compromises that work for everyone,” said Rob Hewitt, CUPE local 523 bargaining committee spokesperson.

But a level of uncertainty remains.

North Okanagan-Shuswap CUPE members will vote on the contract but because they are part of a single collective unit with School District #53 (Okanagan Similkameen) and School District #67 (Okanagan Skaha), a majority vote among the members in the three areas will determine the fate of the deal and any future job action.

“It’s all three districts or none,” said Hewitt.

It’s not known when the North Okanagan-Shuswap school board will vote on the contract, and if there will be support for the document.

“I’m not sure what it will cost us,” said Chris Coers, a School District #83 trustee, who hoped to see some of the details Tuesday.

“Hopefully it’s not too much and it’s something we can handle in a different budget and not a budget that’s already been approved.”

Hewitt wouldn’t provide details on how the matter was resolved because the terms had not been released to his members yet.

It’s not known when the union membership will vote on the proposed contract.

“Our goal is to have it done in a week to 10 days,” said Hewitt, adding that the bargaining committee is recommending endorsement.

Benefits are considered a local issue and they were the focus of Monday’s negotiations, while wages are a provincially negotiated matter.

The contract calls for a 3.5 per cent raise, including a one per cent raise effective July 1, 2013, followed by two per cent effective Feb. 1, 2014 and a 0.5 per cent increase effective May 1.

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