Contract talks break down

Harry Sullivan
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School bus drivers, custodians and trades people could be on strike by Monday

TRURO – Bus drivers, custodians and trades people within the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board could be on strike by Monday.

Bus drivers, custodians and trades people employed by the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board have voted to go out on strike next Monday after concilation talks failed on Friday. Board is meeting Tuesday night to try to find a resolution.

“We’re certainly prepared for a strike,” said Betty Jean Sutherland, the national representative for CUPE Local 3890, after conciliation talks broke off Friday night between the union and the school board, which covers the areas of Colchester, Pictou and Cumberland counties.

The main bone of contention for the approximately 450 affected union members, is job security associated with contracting out concerns, Sutherland said.

And with exams set to begin Monday for high school students the date has been deliberately selected to put as much pressure as possible on the board, she said.

“They did it with full knowledge (of when the exams start),” Sutherland said, of those who voted for that strike date. “So they know the impact would be serious.”

Conciliation talks between the two sides, which began at 9 a.m. Friday, broke off at around midnight of that day, after the board rejected an offer by CUPE to take their concerns directly to third-party arbitration, Sutherland said.

"The union has given the board a way to settle this dispute and avoid a strike. But they basically told us they needed time to think about it,” she said.

“There’s a chance we won’t make any gains (through arbitration),” Sutherland said. “But it can’t get worse than what we have so we were able to rationalize, that rather then putting everybody on the street, it would be a good resolve. For some reason the employer is dragging their feet and certainly made comments that they didn’t want to infringe on management’s rights.”

From the board’s perspective, however, moving straight into arbitration is not a consideration it wanted to make this early in the process, said spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson.

“The issue that we faced Friday night is that the offer that came from CUPE is not without risk for this board. Quite frankly, it poses little risk for CUPE for what the outcome could be. For the board, there is risk associated with it,” she said.

“It takes sober second thought and it takes time to very much consider what the best decision is for this board and for our students.”

The school board has called an emergency meeting for Tuesday night and Buott-Matheson said any talk of a strike is premature until that session has been held.

“What I think is important to focus on here is that we aren’t at that point yet. There is an offer that will be taken to our elected board tomorrow evening from CUPE and an emergency session has been convened,” she said. “The board is going to look at the issue and provide some direction to the bargaining team.”

Sutherland is hoping something positive can come out of Tuesday’s meeting but if it is not successful, the union members are not likely to be happy, given their offer so early in the process to go straight to arbitration.

“I think if they can come out of that emergency meeting tomorrow evening with a resolve to say we agree, this is what we are gong to do, then absolutely, it puts the brakes on everything,” she said.

“I think the difference in this, is that we will likely have a more acrimonious strike if we’re forced out after making as big a concession as we made.”

Twitter: @tdnharry


Organizations: CUPE Local 3890

Geographic location: Colchester, Cumberland

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