CUPE K-12: Caring for BC students and public schools

Dean Coates, president CUPE Local 441 - image 0

Dean Coates, president CUPE Local 441

Dean Coates is president of CUPE 441 in Saanich, representing 500 members including all areas of support staff.  They are a small district and are among the lowest-paid districts in the Province. The area is expensive to live in: young families aren’t prone to buying there; a lot of the land is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve; and so there’s not a lot of new development. That keeps prices high, so the district has been facing both declining enrolments and declining budgets for quite a long time.  This has placed a strain on staffing and morale.

Can you tell me a bit about your history with provincial bargaining?

I’ve been the president of my local for about three years.  I was an alternate to the previous bargaining committee, but this is my first time on the provincial bargaining committee.  

What are some of the challenges we face in provincial bargaining?

Certainly funding.  Funding is the biggest part, as well as regressive laws and government.  Government is our biggest obstacle because they’re forcing our employer to do their dirty work.

What are some of your goals in bargaining?

I just want to get a fair agreement for my members, and everybody in this province with a reasonable wage increase.  I’m tired of seeing backend-loaded contracts.  I would like to see some equity going around both internally and with some male-dominated jobs.  This isn’t a problem in my local, but there is a local in my region that didn’t feel they achieved full internal equity.  My own personal goal is looking for fully-funded wage parity.  Fully-funded wage parity, at no cost to anybody else.

How can members support the efforts of the bargaining committee?

Just keep yourself informed, read the bulletins, and ask questions.  I don’t want to just give out a report and have it rubber stamped.  I want members to ask questions so I hear what they want, what their needs are.  And I can do my best to do my part on the committee to voice that for them.

If you could give a message to the employers, what would that be?

To our individual employers, I would let them know that I understand that they are being put between a rock and a hard place, and forced to do the government’s ideologically-based decision making – making the decision ideologically, then trying to find facts to support it.  Or, worse yet, making decisions without any facts at all. As far as the government goes, I find it disgusting what they’re doing, what they have done with province in the past 12 years – cuts, cuts, cuts.  Their cuts are hurting public education. 

What would you want members to know about bargaining?

I would just like them to take a keener interest in bargaining. The strength of your bargaining committee is the membership.  If members don’t get involved and take an interest, and sit and have debates and discussions, it weakens your bargaining committee’s position.  You need to ask the tough questions and voice your concerns to your committee and executive. We want that.