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CUPE retreats on provincial bargaining
July 22, 2000

CUPE’s K-12 Sectoral Bargaining Committee has obtained a delay in the processes of the Industrial Inquiry Commission appointed to look into the structure of bargaining in the public school sector.

This may signal a retreat on provincial bargaining now that CUPE has achieved many of its goals through the decision of the Industrial Inquiry Commission appointed to settle the terms of forty-four school district support staff collective agreements. The Commission was appointed under Part 1 of the Public Education Support Staff Collective Bargaining Assistance Act with the power to in effect arbitrate the collective agreements after CUPE began an escalating series of province wide strikes that shut down schools in a number of districts (click here for backgrounder on strikes).

Throughout 1999, CUPE actively sought to establish provincial bargaining through a variety of tactics and strategies (click here for detailed history and analysis in Newsletter). Part 2 of the Public Education Support Staff Collective Bargaining Assistance Act provided for the appointment of an Industrial Inquiry Commission to inquire into and make recommendations on the structures, practices and procedures for support staff collective bargaining. Vince Ready and Irene Holden, the Commissioners from the Part 1 Industrial Inquiry Commission were appointed to carry out this task.

The Commission received written submissions and had scheduled hearings for July 5 and 6, 2000, with the intention of making its report and recommendations at the end of August (click here for Notice of Hearing). This schedule was extended by three months at CUPE’s request. A recent bulletin to its members reveals the reasons:

“CUPE requested and the Industrial Inquiry Commissioners and the government have agreed that the deadline date for completing the IIC 3 will be extended to November 30, 2000. Such an extension will provide CUPE locals and leaders across the province to be consulted on how bargaining should take place.”

“A consultation process will start in mid-September. It will be aimed at reaching a CUPE consensus on how bargaining should take place in the future. Province-wide, regional, or local by local – all are up for discussion.” (click here for full text)

There have been indications that many CUPE locals do not want to surrender their bargaining rights and give up local bargaining in favour of provincial bargaining. Prior to 1999, CUPE had consistently defended local bargaining. In the early 1990′s the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service and Public Sector (known as the Korbin Commission) conducted an extensive inquiry into collective bargaining structures and compensation levels in the public sector. It held hearings and received hundreds of written submissions from various stakeholders. The Korbin Commission’s report considered the public school sector in a twenty-seven page section. The sole reference to support staff bargaining was the following paragraph:

“No submissions were received by the commission advocating change in bargaining arrangements for support staff in education. The vast majority of support staff are represented by CUPE, who endorses the current arrangements. This may be the result of the fact that these parties have been bargaining long enough to have developed an effective and efficient bargaining process based on mutual respect.”

It may be that CUPE is now feeling pressure from its support staff locals to back off provincial bargaining and leave the existing structure alone. If so, it casts even more doubt on the conclusion of the original Industrial Inquiry Commission that the system of support staff bargaining is “dysfunctional”, a conclusion on which the government acted in passing the Public Education Support Staff Collective Bargaining Assistance Act.