Monday, July 07, 2008

School District layoff plans face union backlash

While Prince Rupert parents learn of yet a few more of its School District administrators and former principals packing their bags for other opportunities elsewhere, the fallout from recent School District layoff decisions continues to grow.

Last weeks Northern View had details of plans from the International Union of Operating Engineers to contest the recent layoff announcements, suggesting that the School District is in violation of section 54 of the labour relations code, mainly due to the lack of proper notice to affected employees of their fates.

It's a challenge that School District Treasurer Kim Morris doesn't accept as she claims that the School District has indeed followed the proper process in the collective agreement.

Another contentious issue that has popped up on the labour front is a concern by the IUOE that the Treasurer exerted too much influence over local trustees regarding a recently held meeting between the District and the union. According to union General Manager , Saundra Taylor Morris had instructed trustees not to attend the meeting, leaving them unaware of the union side of the debate and the issues that they wanted to impress upon the local elected officials.

The sabre rattling of the summer months, no doubt suggests that things will be heating up shortly as the plans continue to evolve for School District 52 as they try to meet the financial challenges that have been placed upon them after funding reductions from Victoria.,

The Northern View provided a bit of background on the stormy relationship between one union and the District, with an update on their website.

Union fights layoffs
By Brooke Ward

The Northern View
July 01, 2008

When International Union of Operating Engineers general manager Saundra Taylor was in town last week and made an appearance at the special board meeting, she made her thoughts on the districts “massive layoffs” well known, telling trustees and district staff that they would be hearing from the labour relations board.

Citing section 54 of the labour relations code, wherein it says “if an employer introduces a measure, policy, practice or change that affects the terms, conditions or security of employment of a significant number of employees to whom a collective agreement applies... the employer must give notice to the trade union... at least 60 days before.. it is to be effected,” Taylor claims the district still has yet to formally notify the union of the layoffs, thus violating the collective agreement.

Taylor was also critical of the board of trustees headance to secretary-treasurer Kim Morris’ recommendation not to attend a meeting that the IUOE had specifically requested trustees attend.

“Who works for who?” she asked, adding that she was “appalled” by the seeming indifference of the trustees.

“If we’d been properly informed, we could have had liason meetings and the timeline would have given the union a couple of months to get together with the board to try and work as a team. Even the mayor should have been thoroughly involved in the process,” said Taylor, saying that the union’s lawyer will be applying to the LRB this week.

“From the district point of view, we have followed the process in the collective agreement,” said Morris.

“We’ve been working hard with the local IUOE over the past six months or so. I think we need to lay out the context. We’ve had declining enrollment for ten years, we’ve just closed two of our elementary schools, we’ve had our funding shortfall so it’s not a mystery why we are where we are at.”

“We’ve got concerns, yes, we’re very concerned about our community and the board is very sensitive to the needs of the students and of our staff,” she continued.
“It’s our intent [to be], and I do believe we have been, as transparent as possible,” said superintendent Eric Mercer, noting the various stakeholder groups involved in the district visioning process.

“We understand all employee groups are trying to protect their members but it’s easy enough to see that fewer schools and fewer students means fewer staff but it was not an easy decision.”
“The board has been faced with many tough decisions this year,” added Morris.
More concerns also recently circulated for the special needs children who would be left without care workers in the fall due to an incomplete hiring process and no hiring during the summer, as per the collective agreement.

“We’ve been in the staffing process since May and we haven’t been able to complete that because we’ve been in discussion with the union. I want the public to rest assured that we do have people available through the callout process, and although they might not be the workers who will be with [the children] all year, they will not be alone come September. And we will be doing the best we can to get all positions filled as quickly as we can in the fall, in cooperation with the union.”

Mercer suggests that the district may have to even recruit for administration, with the announcement of Pineridge principal Daryl Wright accepting a position in the Cowichan Valley.
“Vice principal at Roosevelt Kathy Dann will be put into the principalship [at Pineridge] but we will be shy administrators,” said Mercer.

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