EDMONTON - Contract talks open today between the Edmonton Public School Board and the union representing 170 skilled maintenance personnel and tradespersons.
Bruce Cutting, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 784, which represents the employees, says he expects provincial under funding will create a difficult round of bargaining.
“Provincial funding has not kept up with maintenance demands at Edmonton Public,” said Cutting. “Over 75% of the school sites were built in the early 1950s and age is starting to show.”
Cutting said that Alberta’s booming economy is making it harder for schools to attract skilled trades persons, and said the school districts will have to raise salaries to compete.
“With the booming economy, the demand for skilled trades is a constant threat to our maintenance department,” Cutting stated. “Our members took a 15% pay cut in 1984, and a 5% cut in the 1990s, those cuts are still hurting the school district in its ability to recruit and retain trades people.”
Cutting said the problems of under funding and an ageing building stock are made worse by Edmonton Public’s system of site based budgeting. Cutting said maintenance budgets are placed in the hands of principals who have an educational background when a maintenance background is needed.
“If a principal is facing a funding shortfall, their lack of knowledge often leads them to cut back on maintenance in favour of classroom resources,” said Cutting. “We know their intent is good, but they can often make a bad situation worse - causing even bigger maintenance bills down the road.”
“With the Board facing an $8 million deficit, the maintenance problems are going to get shuffled aside again - only to create very expensive emergencies later.”
Cutting said he expects layoffs of maintenance staff, meaning schools will not be as well maintained or as safe.
- 30 -