The local branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is feeling good about a recently-renegotiated collective agreement with School District No. 54 – Bulkley Valley (SD54).
After approximately a week of bargaining in April 2019 the agreement was approved by the SD54 board during their Sept. 24 meeting.
President with CUPE Local 2145 (Bulkley Valley School District #54) Rolanda Lavallee said she was really happy with how the bargaining turned out.
“We did so much housekeeping that I feel our bargaining team got a really good collective agreement, all of our ambiguous and antiquated language has been cleaned up,” she said, adding she felt the bargaining process went really well because of the union’s good working relationship with SD54.
Lavallee attributed part of the bargaining’s success to well-balanced teams on both sides of the negotiations, including a member of custodial staff, an educational assistant (EA) and a technician.
“We each passed across a package and a lot of their package was very similar to ours and then it was just hashing out the language and making sure that the money that we were spending … did not directly affect wages and [was] enhancing student services.”
Lavallee said the new agreement between the local union, which negotiates on behalf of all non-teaching staff — people such as custodians, secretaries, bus drivers and EAs — has some big changes since the last time they sat down for negotiations.
That’s because Lavallee said, for the first time in a long time, CUPE Local 2145 was given bargaining money on a local level.
The new agreement was hashed out under an enhanced service mandate, meaning the overall goal for new language was to make sure it did not directly affect wages and enhanced student services.
This included things such as rewriting ambiguous language to outline exactly what constitutes a regular or casual employee and the successful addition of dual-role positions at the school (amalgamating hard-to-fill, low-hour positions such as recess supervisors with pre-existing ones) to help address recruitment and retention issues.
The agreement also has the foundation of a sunset clause (the ability to have minor transgressions removed from one’s record if they go a certain period without any additional issues on their record).
“That’s something really hard to get when you have an established collective agreement,” said Lavallee.
The agreement also included a number of monetary raises (EAs working with children: 50 cents; maintenance workers: doubling of boot allowance).
Shift workers are also receiving a raise, something Lavallee said is a long time coming.
“It’s the first increase that we were able to trace back prior to 1991 so that was a big gain for our shift workers.”
All in all, Lavallee said she was really happy with how the process went.
“We’ve come out of bargaining mandates where it was zeroes, right? Or we were getting 0.5 and 0.1 [per cent] and there wasn’t any local bargaining money.”
While most of the funding will not be accessible until July, the personal care allowance benefitting students has already been implemented.
The local bargaining also made a number of updates which fall in line with recent provincial bargaining, such as updated language on bullying and harassment in schools as well as terms used in contracts to be more gender-neutral.
Policies regarding leaves for bereavements have also been updated to be more reflective of local Indigenous culture.
While previously only mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren and grandparents were seen as significant enough to warrant time off in the case of a death, Lavallee explained, the update considers more extended family.
“Wet’suwet’en culture has obligations where the father clan would perform a smoke feast and they help prepare the body when they’ve lost a loved one and sometimes that falls into the “It was my auntie, it was my cousin [category],” and so they can make an application now to the secretary treasurer and ask for a special bereavement consideration.”
The current agreement will be in place until June 20, 2022 when it expires, however Lavallee said new bargaining will begin early that year.
As for the most recent negotiations, she said she sees them as a win for all the diverse individuals CUPE 2145 represents.
“A lot of times when people think of support staff or when they think about schools they think about teachers or EAs and they forget about the rest of us that are doing things behind the scenes.
“I think we were fairly balanced in making sure everyone was represented at the bargaining table so I feel like I’ve hit that goal.”
SD54 encompasses approximately just over 2,000 students and spans the communities of Smithers, Telkwa, Houston, and Moricetown.