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VANCOUVER - It took an entire long weekend of intense negotiations but representatives of 25,000 school support workers have reached tentative agreements with their employers association and the B.C. government.

Barry O’Neill, President of CUPE BC—the union representing 23,000 of B.C.’s 25,000 unionized school support staff—described the process as “an extremely difficult round of mediation.”

There have been some important gains,” said O”Neill. “Employers were forced to remove concessions—including contracting-out—from the table. In addition the government has agreed to fund some important initiatives that will have a positive effect on school support staff and students right across the province.”

O’Neill was also pleased to report that the government has agreed to regular scheduled meetings between support staff unions and the Minister of Education.

Issues related to wages, respect and job security were the key contentious issues debated throughout the Victoria Day weekend. CUPE locals from different parts of the province, including the Lower Mainland, Okanagan, the North and Vancouver Island reached impasse and applied for mediation. Those actions set the stage for bargaining coordination and the negotiation of an agreed-to template for common issues.

Ratification votes will take place once all unions have reached tentative agreements with their employers. Meanwhile locals in school districts with outstanding local issues to resolve will be encouraged by both their unions and the employers’ association to proceed expeditiously.

Six unions and thirteen locals were involved in the mediation process. School districts included Saanich, Sooke, Cowichan, Comox, Prince George, Kelowna and Burnaby. Unions participating in mediation included CUPE, the Construction, Mechanical and Allied Workers (CMAW), BCGEU, Steelworkers and the West Vancouver School Support Staff Association.

The final date for concluding contracts is June 30, 2006.