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NDP legislates BC school workers back to work

School workers in BC are reeling after the NDP government they worked hard to elect forced them back to work after a special Sunday sitting of the legislature.

The government action came after months of ignoring pleas from CUPE for help with what mediator Vince Ready has described as the most convoluted bargaining pro-cess I have ever witnessed. Ready served as one of two Industrial Inquiry Commissioners (IIC) appointed by the BC government after the strike began.

The IIC was given an impossible task, said Barry ONeill, president of CUPE BC. Its not surprising that CUPEs K-12 Sectoral Bargaining Committee rejected the report when the commissions hands were basically tied by government before the inquiry began.

CUPE members have been attempting to bargain with their school board employers for the last 18 months. During the lead up to the province-wide strike, emplo-yers refused again and again to bargain common issues that included an accord based on government policy pay equity, joint benefits trust, pensions and job security.

About 15,000 members in the K-12 sector had been on strike since March 27, the largest CUPE strike in BC in the last 20 years.

The legislation that forced CUPE members back to work created a second Industrial Inquiry Commission and set up an investigation into the structure of bargaining between CUPE and the various levels of employers.

In the weeks leading up to the strike, CUPE members in BC were badgered by media responding to issues that in at least two cases were inspired by leaks directly from the employers side of the bargaining table. Both dealt with the use of volunteers in schools. During a media blackout imposed by IIC, a member of the BC Employers Association was escorted out of the building where talks were taking place because of a breach in the imposed blackout.

Even when employers are repeatedly caught in the action of being indiscreet and dishonest, said ONeill, this government still has the audacity to chastize CUPE and force our members back to work.

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