CUPE 606 represents all education support workers with Nanaimo/Ladysmith School District 68 except for excluded staff.
Can you tell me a bit about your history with provincial bargaining?
Other than one round of bargaining, I’ve been active on my Local bargaining committee for over 20 years. CUPE Local 606 has been involved in provincial bargaining since the beginning.
What are some of the challenges we face in provincial bargaining?
We need the thrust to get the money from the government to pay for our wage increases and what we negotiate. Provincial bargaining takes away from our local ability to get our issues dealt with in some ways. We’re pressured to take the provincial mandate, and it allows our local management side to then use stall tactics. In the end they want us to roll over the collective agreement or accept something less superior than we might want.
What are some of your goals in bargaining?
My goals are to improve benefits, vacation times and other things that we’ve been missing. Also to increase shift premiums – and other premiums that have not been properly lifted. We can’t do that at the provincial table because not all places are the same. So those local issues always seem to lag because we do not get any money given to us locally. Hopefully during this term of provincial bargaining, we might be able to convince the province to say ‘here is some other money to use in your own locals.’
How can members support the efforts of the bargaining committee?
As much as local autonomy and apathy creates some problems, when you call on your members for a strike and they give you the strike mandate, they’re behind you. We need to use that tool with the right intent. We can’t keep trying to yank our members up and then knock them back down by not doing it, and take something less superior. If we get them ready to go, we have to be assured that we get what we want. And if we make them walk, we don’t take anything less.
Members have always got the power to talk to local trustees. The power to talk to others and convince MLA’s to make changes. We are the voters. We are the power. We need to realize that, and we need to force it when it’s needed. Members should talk to their neighbours and get their support for public education. Take away all that bad stuff that public employees are there only for the golden pensions. We’re actually there to provide a service, and we should be proud of the service we provide.
If you could give a message to the employers, what would that be?
To the government, it’s time you pony up some additional funding for public education. Stop starving those that you educate. If you don’t educate people properly, they end up in our jail system which costs ten times more than it does to have a person in the public education system. There’s something wrong with that. We need to make sure we educate people properly, and allow them to go into the new economy with all the skills to get better jobs. So they don’t slip through the cracks and end up at the side of the road with a cup, out asking for handouts.
What do you think members need to know about bargaining?
We need to remind our members...as much as they say ‘what has the union done for me lately’, that without unions, things would be a lot worse. We’re taking hits because of our presence and what we do. Unions need to be more diligent than ever before because the government is trying to counteract us. They offer buyouts for today, but tomorrow they’ll roll it back the minute they have an opening. They will take away decent paycheques. They’ll try to make people pay because there will be no one standing together and fighting back.
Is there anything else you’d like to say that we haven’t covered?
Senior management puts forward budgets and don’t look at themselves. The ones that make the most, seem to protect themselves the most – there’s something just not right about that. They say ‘well you got a raise, we deserve one’. I keep saying, why does your wage have to keep climbing further above mine. Your quart of milk is the same as the next person’s.