'There is no more money': Frustration mounting as Saanich strike nears end of 2nd week

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SAANICH - The school support workers strike in Saanich is well into its second week, and the school district's superintendent Dave Eberwein says he's frustrated with the union's leadership for telling its members there's more money to be had if they just hold out longer.

"There is no more money available to us at the local table," Eberwein said. "It has been completely exhausted, and to have the false hope that there is more money out there that for some reason the employer is choosing not to access is completely wrong."

Frustration is also being felt across the district by students and their parents, who had missed a total of nine days of school by Thursday.

Carolyn Phillips is one of those frustrated parents. She has two daughters: one in Grade 6 and one in Grade 9. She's worried the strike is impacting her kids.

"It's not just the actual missed classroom time," Phillips said. "It's the routine for the kids, it's the social aspect of it."

Adding to her frustration is the knowledge that international students are going on field trips that are supervised by principals and vice principals, while other kids like hers are at home.

"The optics are that if you come here and you pay money, it's more important for you to be getting some kind of educational experience than it is for the actual school district 63 kids," Phillips said.

In response to this criticism, the district points out that the trips are privately funded by the students and no actual curriculum material is being taught.

"It is not full time," Eberwein said. "It is not all day and there is not a single taxpayer being used to support that … If we didn't have that international program, there would be millions of dollars lost to the district. There would be substantial staff cuts to pay for that."

Meanwhile, he is adamant that the district has now made its best offer to the union, having proposed wage increases for the support workers that range from 7.1 to 12.8 percent for different positions within the union.

The union – CUPE Local 441 – is the support workers union, which includes staff like educational assistants and bus drivers. Its members are striking because they want to be paid the same amount as workers in neighbouring school districts, including Sooke and Victoria.

Union president Dean Coates says the amount of wages needed to create parity with the other districts would require a total sum of between 1 and 3 million dollars. Coates says he wants the province to step in and end the strike.

"It would be a drop in the bucket for the province to be able to fix this issue," Coates said.

On Thursday, Premier John Horgan weighed in on the strike, saying he thinks the district's offer is fair.

"I would suggest that the members of CUPE, if they had the chance to vote on the package, would accept it," Horgan said.  

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