Leanne Toderian is a full-time president of CUPE Local 15 in Vancouver. The Local represents approximately 7,500 members in six major sectors: Municipal, Park, College/University, K-12, Health and Cultural. This will be her first experience bargaining K-12.
What are some of the challenges we face in provincial bargaining?
With provincial bargaining, the primary concern is the very different obstacles or challenges that each school district has. The challenges are not just geographic. It’s the funding. It’s the size of the school district. When you have 60 school districts they all have some very unique needs. They have different politics. So, trying to find a deal that will answer or respond or resonate with each of those locals is really hard.
Yet provincial bargaining is necessary because the government is really the one who is the employer. So you have to find a way to make that work.
What are some of your goals in bargaining?
The biggest concern on Local 15 members’ minds is job security. We are the most expensive city to live in North America. One of the issues that our members struggle with is “why should I still work in Vancouver? Why wouldn’t I just move to the Fraser Valley and work there?”
Those who aren’t prepared to move are worried about the stability of the workforce. And it seems like they’re always working with somebody new. That’s the reality of the work. Retention is not good. It’s not as healthy as it could be.
Retention definitely affects the students. I have two children who have been in learning assistance programs. They both have different learning disabilities. So I know first-hand the kind of relationships that are needed – the trust that a child will establish with their learning assistance teachers. And without that, they have to start fresh every time. Kids need continuity and predictability. They need to have a relationship and trust to thrive in the system.
I think as far as the school board goes, they’ve invested in these people. It’s in their best interest to have a stable workforce. It’s better to manage and administer staff that they’ve trained and had in their system for a period of time so that they can establish a stable work environment. I think it’s important.
How can members support the efforts of the bargaining committee?
I think the first thing they need to do is to be engaged, to know what’s happening. Members need to take an interest in what is going on so that they can make decisions when we come to them and ask: “What do you want? Do you want to go on strike? Do you not want to go on strike?” These are really important questions and members should have the knowledge to understand what’s at stake and the ramifications of each of their decisions, whether it’s yes or no.
We need members to be more pro-active. We put information on the web site. So members can visit the web site, look for updates, go to general membership meetings, and talk to stewards. Stewards are very engaged – they go to every meeting and are a good source of information.
If you could give a message to the employers, what would that be?
Speaking from my experience so far with Vancouver School Board, I feel that the majority of the Board takes their job very seriously. They put their priority as the education of students, which is what they are entrusted with. They are trustees of public education. I see them supporting public education. I see them fighting the province, the Ministry, for better funding, putting students first and struggling with the amount of money they have so far. It’s not enough. I don’t have a lot of criticism for the school district I’m from, Vancouver School District 39.
What do you think members need to know about bargaining?
Members need to know first and foremost that the buck stops at the Province. They need to know that it is the provincial government that holds the public strings of the employers. The employers are not entrusted to make decisions. Everything has to go through the Ministry of Education and Christy Clark, her government. They are the ones that are steering this boat.
Members need to remember that at the polling station. They need to remember to call their MLA. Parents are often on PTAs and on PACs and attend school board meetings. But they also have to go around to their elected official’s offices and start talking to them.
Is there anything else you’d like to say that we haven’t covered?
We need to remember that there is strength in numbers. And I know that it’s hard when we have 60 school districts for a member in Vancouver to remember that what they’re fighting for is not just their own job, they’re fighting for Smithers, they’re fighting for Houston, they’re fighting for Grand Forks. Employers love to divide and conquer and it’s no different at the provincial level. “Strength in numbers.” Trust that if we keep pecking away at their agenda, we will survive and we will succeed if we stick together.