British Columbia

Saanich teachers sacrificing paycheques to stand with striking support workers

Support workers in the Saanich school district have been on strike since Monday and the president of the Saanich Teachers' Association says teachers will continue to stay off the job in solidarity with their colleagues.

Teachers' association says district wage disparity has day-to-day classroom impact

Striking CUPE 441 members pace outside Brentwood Bay Elementary School in Brentwood Bay, B.C., on Monday. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Teachers in the Saanich school district have no plans to cross the picket lines as support workers continue to strike over wages. 

Over 7,000 students in Saanich, B.C. have been out of school since Monday after 500 unionized support workers walked off the job. According to the president of the Saanich Teachers' Association, the wage disparity has a day-to-day impact on the classroom, and teachers will continue to forego a paycheque to stand in solidarity with their colleagues.

The biggest issue for support staff is what they earn: some workers in the district make several dollars less, per hour, than their counterparts in neighbouring school districts such as Victoria and Sooke.

Don Peterson, president of the Saanich Teachers' Association, said it is hard to attract and retain support workers, like education assistants, because they often get hired and then leave for higher paying positions when they open up elsewhere.

'We know that Greater Victoria and Sooke do have a four dollar pay difference in comparison," said Peterson in an interview on CBC's On The Island. "It's hard to defend the idea that workers could be getting such a pay difference for doing the same job."

'Severe financial impact'

He said support workers stood by teachers in 2005 during a two-week strike and this time around, teachers are giving up their own paycheques to return the favour.

"It's a severe financial impact on our members," said Peterson, adding teachers are receiving a $50-per-day job action stipend and that's it.

But, said Peterson, teachers would benefit from consistent support in the classroom, such as education assistants, and this is more likely if they are paid the same amounts as their district counterparts.

District superintendent Dave Eberwein said support workers are paid hourly wages that are lower than those in other area districts — by between 30 cents and $4 per hour — because the union opted for better benefits decades ago.

In a statement, the finance ministry said most support staff unions in B.C. have negotiated new contracts, and encouraged the Saanich School District and CUPE 441 to do the same.

With files from On The Island