Despite a marathon conciliation session on Friday until midnight, negotiations between CUPE Local 3890 and the Chignecto Central Regional School Board are at an impasse.
A possible strike Monday would include school bus drivers, custodians and tradespeople. Staff photo
According to CUPE National Representative Betty Jean Sutherland, the negotiations involving more than 400 bus drivers, custodians and tradespeople were at times heated.
“We’re on the verge of a strike,” she 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.”
On Friday, Sutherland said most of the time was spent just getting on the same page with the CCRSB.
“We had had some positive, good talks about the dysfunction and lack of communication between the union and employer,” she said. “It took the day to reach some consensus and understanding.”
The conciliation talks revolve around job security and the board’s ability to hire outside contractors or services when needed. CUPE feels its member’s jobs may be in jeopardy.
“It’s probably one of the most important parts of this contract mostly because of the economy and the government’s reduced budgets for school boards,” said Sutherland. “We can’t prevent layoffs, we understand that.”
But she said there should be some provision made to allow Local 3890’s members to return to work for contracts within their ability. It’s something that CCRSB communications manager Debbie Buott-Matheson said is already happening.
“It’s already a current part of our mandate, that CCRSB can’t engage with an outside contractor for day-to-day needs around schools and that we couldn’t engage in the activity if it would result in a layoff,” said Buott-Matheson. “It is never our intent to lay off an employee in favour of a private contactor.”
She noted that when contracted jobs come up, former custodians, bus drivers and tradespeople are on a preferred casual list.
The issue of job security will be brought up at a special school board meeting tonight.
“Obviously, we don’t want to see a job action,” said Buott-Matheson. “These are our men and women who make our offices run on a daily basis. These are the first people our students see when they arrive for the day and the last when they leave.”
With 87 per cent of Local 3890 voting in favour of a strike vote back in December, Sutherland said without a resolve to the impasse, the only step left is to issue 48-hour notice on Wednesday.
“Frankly, I’m a little bit shocked that they would risk putting more than 400 employees on the street and cause a disruption in services for students when the union has been more than reasonable in its position,” says Sutherland. “We are hopeful that the board can… solve this one outstanding issue, so that we can reach a negotiated settlement and avoid a strike.”
If Local 3890 decides to strike, they would be in a legal strike position by Friday, with the strike officially starting on Monday morning.
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