Union members reject school board's offer; strike begins 8 a.m. Monday

Raissa Tetanish
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ONSLOW – It’s official – custodians, bus drivers and tradespeople with the local school board are on strike as of Monday morning.

Members of the CUPE Local 3890 leave the Central Colchester Junior High School on Sunday following a ratification vote. More than 50 per cent of the 433 staff - which includes custodians, bus drivers and tradespeople - rejected the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board's latest offer and will be striking at 8 a.m. Monday.

Betty Jean Sutherland, Canadian Union of Public Employees national representative, confirmed the strike after close to 450 votes were counted Sunday night.

“Fifty-four per cent rejected the employer’s offer in the ratification vote,” said Sutherland. “Four hundred and 33 votes were cast, out of a possible 450 employees. It was our biggest turnout.”

The bus drivers, custodians and tradespeople voted at three meetings in Colchester, Cumberland and Pictou counties on the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board’s latest offer.

Members of CUPE Local 3890 will turn out en masse at 8 a.m. Monday in front of the school board offices on Lorne Street in Truro.

“The initial strike action will be at the board offices in Truro, and then the membership will spread out after that,” Sutherland said.

Andre Gibson, a custodian within the board, said the meeting he attended at Central Colchester Junior High School was a productive one but was hoping for a different outcome.

“There was a lot of information out there from both sides, and there was a lot of spin going on out there,” he said, following the vote.

“No one is ready for a strike. We want to work.”

Out of the unionized members, Gibson said the group wasn’t a “radical” one.

“We’re hoping cooler heads will prevail,” he had said.

Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager for the school board, said the board was hoping for a different outcome.

“It’s definitely not what we wanted to see,” she said. “We had hoped that the members, if they had a chance to see and hear the board’s latest offer, would choose to accept it.”

By rejecting the offer, all school buses – close to 100 of them – have been taken off the road for the foreseeable future and extra-curricular activities for the students have been cancelled.  About 17,000 students, or 82 per cent of those within the board, used the busses. Schools will be open only 60 minutes prior to the start of the school day, and remain open for only 60 minutes after the final bell.

Cleaning will also be down to nights and weekends by cleaning teams, consisting of managers and non-unionized staff.

“There will be no NSTU or NSGEU members on the cleaning teams,” said Buott-Matheson. “For instance, I am on the cleaning team. It’s about the health and safety of our students and we’ll keep going for as long as we can,” before things are re-assessed.

Building maintenance required during the strike period will be done on an emergency basis only, and non-school groups that utilize the schools after hours will no longer be able to do so.

“I am saddened to say that CUPE has rejected our last offer,” said Trudy Thompson, board chair, in a news release. “That means that 450 of our employees will be on the street (Monday), instead of in our classrooms and offices and driving our buses. Our contingency plan has now been activated.”

Buott-Matheson said the board had been working on the contingency plan for weeks now.

“It’s not something we wanted to do, but we knew we had to,” she said.

The main disagreement in negotiations was over contracting out work. Conciliation talks began at 9 a.m. on Jan. 10, but broke off at midnight after the board rejected an offer by CUPE to take their concerns directly to third-party arbitration. After talks broke off, the school board issued an emergency meeting for Tuesday of last week.

At that meeting, the school board rejected the offer to use binding arbitration to settle the contract issues.

 

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, Central Regional School Board, Central Colchester Junior High School

Geographic location: Truro, Colchester, Pictou Chignecto Lorne Street

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