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Province cuts school support deal ahead of teachers strike vote

The province has struck a tentative deal with 34,000 school support staff on the eve of B.C. teachers' vote on staging a full-scale strike.

The five-year agreement reached Saturday provides wage increases totalling 5.5 per cent, with potential for more tied to the performance of the B.C. economy – in line with the standard settlements reached with other public sector unions.

It covers education assistants, school secretaries, caretakers, bus drivers and other education support staff, mostly represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The union and provincial negotiators with the B.C. Public School Employers Association hammered the deal out in just five days following the start of talks last Tuesday.

"This success provides ample evidence that the bargaining system works — when the parties come to the table with reasonable expectations and a flexible, solution-oriented approach," said BCPSEA public administrator Michael Marchbank said.

"We built some momentum very quickly," CUPE B.C. spokesman Rob Hewitt said. "The government came our direction enough to meet in the middle and we found a solution."

He said the union also secured increased hours for education assistants and standardization gains to extended health benefit plans.

Asked if the timing of talks amid the intensifying teachers dispute helped CUPE negotiators, Hewitt said only the teachers were not discussed at the table.

Also included is an Employee Support Grant covering any wages CUPE members lose by refusing to cross legal picket lines.

The union's support for the B.C. Teachers Federation and teachers' pursuit of long-term adequate funding for public education "hasn't changed one iota," CUPE B.C. president Mark Hancock said.

"Just as the teachers have been at our side as our members have fought for public education, we continue to stand with them."

The deal running through to the summer of 2019 must still be ratified by union members.

As with other agreements, school support staff get further wage increases in the final four years of the agreement equivalent to half of any increase of provincial economic growth in excess of the budget's forecast.

GDP growth of one per cent above the forecast in a given year would, for example, trigger a further 0.5 per cent pay hike.

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