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Amid teacher strikes, B.C. education support workers begin contract talks

Parents of B.C. schoolchildren stand outside the legislature with signs stating their disappointment with the provincial government in Victoria on May 28, 2014.

Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

The union representing B.C.'s education support workers is kicking off contract negotiations with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association Tuesday, against the backdrop of rotating strikes by the province's teachers.

CUPE is slated to exchange proposals with BCPSEA Tuesday afternoon.

"We are looking to reach a fair and reasonable settlement for our members," K-12 sector co-ordinator Rob Hewitt said in a statement.

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The union represents more than 27,000 education support workers including secretaries, education assistants, caretakers, information technology staff, First Nations support workers, bus drivers and trades and maintenance workers. Their contract with the employers' association expires at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils is ramping up its pressure on both sides of the teachers' dispute in the hopes that the two parties can hammer out a deal and end the ongoing labour strife.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is in the midst of a second week of rotating strikes, while the government has imposed a partial lockout that prevents teachers from coming to work more than 45 minutes before class begins or staying more than 45 minutes after it ends.

The job action has left some parents scrambling to find daycare arrangements for their children, while older students are grappling with uncertainty about provincial exams, graduation ceremonies and final grades, which are needed for college and university admissions.

The incoming president of the BCCPAC is urging parents to write letters to the province's Education Minister and the head of the teachers' federation.

"We're encouraging parents to write to Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCTF president Jim Iker, explaining how the rotating strikes and lockout are hurting families," Nicole Makohoniuk said in a statement.

Ms. Makohoniuk was elected to the two-year position during BCCPAC's conference over the weekend. She will take over from the organization's current president, Terry Berting, on July 1.

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Students across the province are expected to stage a walkout on Wednesday to protest the labour dispute.

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