Mediation sought for stalled CUPE-Central Okanagan Public Schools contract talks

Both sides agree to seek mediation with Labour Relations Board

A strike vote could happen this weekend as CUPE and the Central Okanagan School District are failing to come to an agreement. (Black Press File photo)

A new contract agreement continues to allude talks between Central Okanagan Public Schools and unionized non-teaching staff as both sides have now agreed to apply for mediation from the Labour Relations Board.

To date, the parties have met seven times since October 2022, the most recent negotiating session being Thursday.

CUPE Local 3523, the union that represents school district support staff, education assistants, administrative staff, custodians, and bus drivers, has indicated to its members a strike vote could take place as early as Saturday, but so far the union leadership has made no public comments on the status of the negotiations.

In a press release, the school district advised a strike vote is neither a strike notice nor does it necessarily mean the union will go on strike.

“Central Okanagan Public Schools is hopeful that the parties can build on the progress already made at the bargaining table and reach an agreement,” said the school district news release released late Thursday evening.

Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, added the mediation approach was suggested by the school district and agreed to by the union.

“There is goodwill on both sides to try and get a deal through mediation,” Kaardal said.

Overshadowing the contract talks is a Provincial Framework Agreement (PFA) reached between the province and CUPE on Sept. 23, 2022, which set out wage increases for three years.

The province also allocated $11.5 million among school districts across B.C. to resolve other outstanding contract issues, with Central Okanagan’s share of that being $1.8 million.

The BC Public School Employers’ Association released a statement to the Capital News regarding the Jan. 25 contract settlement deadline imposed by the provincial government for all school district-CUPE contracts to be settled.

“As the employer bargaining agent in the K-12 public education sector, BC Public School Employers’ Association negotiated the Provincial Framework Agreement with the K-12 Presidents’ Council and Support Staff Unions,” said the statement.

“As per this agreement, if the local parties are in mediation the provincial parties will establish a later ratification date. This means the full Provincial Framework Agreement is available until that later ratification date.

“The provincial parties are the BC Public School Employers’ Association and the K-12 Presidents’ Council and Support Staff Unions.”

The three-year contract between CUPE and the school district expired in June 2022 and the two sides have not agreed on one item up for negotiation in a new deal.

READ MORE: Strike vote looming as school district-CUPE talks stalled

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