Marcel has been on the provincial bargaining committee since provincial coordinated bargaining began in 1999, when it was called the sectoral bargaining committee. CUPE 409 has participated in regional bargaining with Lower Mainland locals stretching from the Sunshine Coast to Surrey for 25 years. Local 409, which represents education support workers in New Westminster, is suffering from the underfunding of education with 53 jobs lost since last June. Members are feeling the effects – with sick leave on the rise and morale at its lowest point. Underfunding is bound to have a negative impact on students and education, says Marcel.
What are some of the challenges we face in provincial bargaining?
Well, the challenges are certainly trying to make the people sitting across the table realize what our members go through every day, their struggles, and the fact that they take pride in the work they do. They’re having a harder and harder time doing it as time goes on, because of underfunding.
What are some of your goals in bargaining?
The goal is to achieve a living wage for our members. It’s mostly education assistants. They make a decent hourly wage in most parts of the province, but they just don’t have enough hours to survive. We’re starting to feel that on all levels – including our custodians – who have just experienced the zeros, the one per cents and the two per cents over the last 15 years. And they’re having a hard time surviving, as well. They’re not being replaced and they don’t feel valued.
How can members support the efforts of the bargaining committee?
Members can support bargaining by being ready to do whatever it takes to get the best deal possible. They need to feel secure that they are represented. We’ve got a large bargaining committee this time, and basically every region of the province is represented. We’re kind of enjoying it. It’s not as difficult as we thought it might be. We’re having good debate and we’re hearing from every perspective. We have a good variety of classifications represented here and we’re fairly gender balanced.
If you could give a message to the employers, what would that be?
Number one would be respect – respect the work that we do. Respect the work of the second largest partner in education and by doing that, you need to remunerate appropriately. We’re not seeing that in most cases. And you have to replace positions through attrition. It seems now that we’re going back to where we were when I first became president two decades ago, where people aren’t being replaced due to attrition and that’s because of the underfunding of education. So we need that, and we need to all work together to make sure that we are funded appropriately so we can stop the dismantling of the public education system.
What would you like members to know or understand about bargaining?
That it’s difficult and that it’s a challenge. The last thing we want to do is put them out on the picket line, but we need their support to make sure that if it comes to that, they’re going to be there for us. And I’m confident that they will be.
Is there anything else you’d like to say that we haven’t covered?
Well, we’re prepared. We’ve extended our session here for the first few days and we’re prepared to go all night. Go all day and night tomorrow. Go all day on Saturday as well to achieve the best settlement possible. And if not, we’ll walk away and come back on the 16th and we’ll do it all over again. This committee, these representatives, are committed and are willing to hang in there and put everything else aside – including their families and their children and their pets – to get this done. We can take great pride in the committee we have.