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School EAs poised to strike

CUPE job action at year end imminent as contract talks stall

Expect limited job action by CUPE workers in Richmond schools before the summer holidays begin.

That's the message from a union official who represents about 1,000 local workers employed as education assistants and non-teaching staff in the district.

June Kaiser, president of CUPE 716, said the action is designed to try and re-start negotiations with the employer which have been stalled since April, the last time the two sides met. At that time CUPE was told there was no money available for any wage increases.

"It won't be disruptive," Kaiser said of the pending strike. "We won't be disrupting any tests, or whatever. It will basically be an information picket line."

Kaiser would not reveal exactly when the action will take place, although the school district will be given 72 hours notice.

She added the government's claim of no funds for any increases does not wash given the recent salary increases for ministerial aids.

Kaiser estimated that some of those pay hikes amounted to more than what some of her members take home annually.

"We want what's fair and reasonable," Kaiser said. "Bascially, we want what the other pubic service unions has settled for."

She added it would mean a raise of around two per cent. Currently, CUPE 716 workers in Richmond earn from around $19 an hour for custodial staff, to $30 an hour for trades workers.

Richmond School Board Chair, Donna Sargent, said the district does not have any "spare money lying around."

"All boards across B.C. really said the same thing," Sargent said. "We don't have money for this, so if there is a negotiated settlement and there is an increase in wages that would have to come from the government."

If the province downloads the cost of a wage increase on Richmond and other school districts around the province the only way to handle the situation would be through staffing cuts, Sargent said.

It's not a road Richmond wants to go down.

"It just can't happen, Sargent said.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement over the summer, further, full-blown strike action after the holidays could be a reality, Kaiser said.

"Come September, if we are not presented with a fair and reasonable increase, we won't have any choice but to do a full-scale strike," she said.