Local school board rejects CUPE offer to move to binding interest arbitration

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Bus drivers, inside workers in a position to strike

TRURO – An offer by the union for school bus drivers and inside workers to use binding arbitration to settle contract issues has been rejected by the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB).

School bus drivers in the Chignecto Central Regional School Board are in a legal position to strike after the board rejected CUPE’s offer to move to binding interest arbitration.

The move means that about 450 employees, including school bus drivers, custodians and trades workers, will be in a legal strike position on Thursday and, with 48 hours notice, may begin a strike action.

“CUPE’s proposal is unrealistic, unmanageable and an inefficient use of taxpayer’s dollars,” said board chairwoman Trudy Thompson, in a news release issued just before midnight Tuesday, following a meeting by the board to consider the offer proposed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3890.

“Essentially CUPE wants this school board to make work for laid-off employees. We cannot and will not do that. We are responsible for educating students to the best of our ability. That means ensuring that every dollar possible is directed to the classroom, while treating our employees in a fair manner.”

The offer to move to binding interest arbitration was made by CUPE in an attempt to force the board into an agreement around expanded job security for CUPE employees, Thompson said.

As an example, she said CUPE proposed that CCRSB, when completing large or emergency projects, such as renovation or flood remediation, have the contractors give parts of the overall project to laid-off CUPE employees. Alternatively, CUPE proposed that if work for the laid-off member could not be made part of the larger project, that CCRSB create equivalent work for the laid-off member.

“Binding interest arbitration poses no risk for CUPE should the arbitrator rule for the school board,” Thompson said. “CUPE would lose nothing in the deal.”

She said the workers would retain the current job security provisions of their collective agreement, the same rights as CUPE members in the Tri-County Regional School Board, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, the South Shore Regional School Board, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial and the Strait Regional School Board. All of the risk would rest with CCRSB.

CCRSB’s ability to complete major infrastructure projects in a timely and efficient manner would be eroded, resulting in a costly, redundant and inefficient system, Thompson said, adding the decision could also impact every other school board in Nova Scotia as they approach their next round of negotiations with CUPE.

“Our focus is our 20,000 plus students. We have to make decisions, at all levels and in all departments, that ultimately create the best outcome for students,” said Thompson. “We cannot take the risk of the arbitrator ruling for CUPE. The potential impact on our students is too great; we would literally be taking money from students to create work. We won’t do that.”

CUPE national representative Betty Jean Sutherland said earlier this week that if the arbitration offer was not accepted, the workers are prepared to begin striking on Monday, which is also the first day of exams for high school students.

She also said a rejection of the union’s offer would not be accepted lightly.

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

Should the strike occur, Thompson said CCRSB will take steps to inform all stakeholders, specifically students, parents and guardians, about plans for managing schools throughout a strike action.

“We want to come to a fair and reasonable agreement with CUPE; we value our bus drivers, custodians and tradespeople very highly,” she said. “We know they make important contributions, everyday, to our schools and offices. Still, our focus has to be on what’s best for students both now and in the long-term.”  

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, Tri-County Regional School Board, Annapolis Valley Regional School Board South Shore Regional School Board Strait Regional School Board

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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