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Moist brings solidarity message to striking school board workers

CUPE National President Paul Moist encouraged striking Thames Valley District School Board workers to keep up their fight for adequate time to do their jobs.

“You have the full support of Canada’s largest union and your CUPE sisters and brothers, from coast to coast, are with you every step of the way,” Moist told over 400 members of CUPE 4222, unit C.

The education and instructional assistants have been on strike since May 11. They are protesting the fact that they are only paid for six hours a day to help special needs students, and are often forced to work during their lunch hour, skip their breaks and stay late to ensure their tasks are completed.

“This issue affects not only the students and workers in this community,” Moist told the picket line crowds. “EAs and IAs all over Ontario face similar issues, with more work to do then their time allows. As employers, school boards need to recognize and respect the work that our members do for students and the community.”

Meal break victory for Ottawa paramedics

In an arbitration decision released this week, CUPE 503 (Ottawa city workers) achieved a major victory that will improve the working conditions of paramedics in Ottawa and potentially across Ontario.

CUPE 503 filed a grievance after the city refused to provide paramedics with regular meal breaks. Arbitrator Joseph Potter held that the Employment Standards Act required the city to ensure that no paramedic works more than five consecutive hours before being given a one-half-hour, uninterrupted meal break.

CUPE 503 president Jim Robillard said the union went to arbitration to ensure that paramedics received the same rights as other Ontario workers.

“Paramedics save lives every day in difficult and stressful conditions,” said Robillard. “They deserve an opportunity every shift to relax and eat without fear of interruption.”

The granting of meal breaks to paramedics was vigorously opposed by the city, which suggested that any additional resources made available to the ambulance service would be used to reduce response times rather than improve working conditions for paramedics.

CUPE 503 vice-president Brian Madden called city’s position unacceptable. “Ottawa paramedics are dedicated and work hard in an underfunded and understaffed system,” he said. “Better ambulance service in Ottawa will not be achieved by depriving paramedics of their rights.”

As a result of the ruling, the paramedics will be receiving some form of individual compensation as a result of the city’s past failure to respect the terms of the ESA.

CUPE sends condolences to mourners of B.C. paramedics

CUPE National President Paul Moist and National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux expressed their grief over the deaths of two B.C. paramedics who died on the job last week.

“We were devastated to learn of the tragic deaths of paramedics Shawn Currier and Kim Weitzel, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to save others,” the national officers’ message read in part.

“On behalf of the entire membership of our union, we extend our condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of these two dedicated professionals.”

CUPE BC also sent a message of condolence. “This terrible event reminds us how these workers put themselves at risk just by reporting for their jobs,” CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill said. “We should never take their bravery for granted. On behalf of all our members, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to their loved ones.”

Currier and Weitzel, members of CUPE 873, were two of the four victims in last week’s tragic accident at a decommissioned lead-zinc mine in Kimberley, B.C. Although the incident is still under investigation, it appears as if all four were overcome by noxious gasses in the mine’s pump-house.

Edmonton school cutbacks mean job losses

The union representing teaching assistants and administrative staff at Edmonton Public Schools says it expects over 200 full time equivalent positions to be reduced next year.

Trudy Grebenstein, president of CUPE 3550, says an $8-million dollar deficit will mean a large staff reduction for the 2006-07 school year. The school district has notified CUPE that cuts are coming, and Grebenstein expects those cuts to be deep.

“By my estimate, there will be a reduction of 200 full time equivalent positions among CUPE 3550 members,” said Grebenstein. “There will also be reductions in custodial and teaching staff.”

Grebenstein put the blame squarely on the Conservative provincial government, saying its funding formula doesn’t take into account negotiated wage increases.

“Just maintaining the status quo would mean a 3.2% increase in funding to Edmonton Public,” said Grebenstein. “But funding from the province has remained static, which means a deficit and it means cut backs.”

Cutbacks will mean fewer classroom resources and busier teachers. “When you take teaching assistants out of the classroom, it means special needs kids don’t get the help they need, and teachers don’t have as much time for students.”

The union was also critical of Edmonton Public School trustees, who Grebenstein called “weak” for not making more noise about government funding.

“It’s wrong for the trustees to remain so quiet,” she said. “If they are not out there putting pressure on the province to kick in more funding, as far as I’m concerned, they are as much to blame as the Tories.”

Meanwhile, Livingston McLeod district school workers were holding a strike vote May 25-26. The CUPE teaching assistants, bus drivers, administrative, custodial, and maintenance staff work in 10 schools across the district, which includes the communities of Pincher Creek, Fort McLeod and Crowsnest Pass.

CUPE Alberta president D’Arcy Lanovaz said the union is recommending a strike vote because the school division is trying to eliminate job security and seniority provisions from the contract.

“The school division wants the right to contract out our jobs whenever they please,” said Lanovaz. “That means lower wages, more turnover, and a poorer quality of education.”

“Schools need to be well run, clean and well maintained to promote a positive work environment,” said Lanovaz. “If wages don’t keep up, turnover increases, and the quality of work goes down.”

B.C. school support staff reach agreement

It took an entire long weekend of intense negotiations, but representatives of 25,000 British Columbia school support workers have reached tentative agreements with their employers and the B.C. government.

Barry O’Neill, president of CUPE BC- which represents 23,000 unionized school support staff-described the process as “an extremely difficult round of mediation, ” but noted that there were important gains.

“Employers were forced to remove concessions, including contracting-out, from the table,” said O’Neill. He was also pleased that the government agreed to regular scheduled meetings between support staff unions and the education minister.

Issues related to wages, respect and job security were also debated during the process.

Ratification votes will take place once all unions have reached tentative agreements with their employers. Six unions were involved in the mediation process, including CUPE, the Construction, Mechanical and Allied Workers, the B.C. Government Employees Union and the Steelworkers.

Sherbrooke bus drivers left out in the cold

Bus drivers in Sherbrooke, Que., say their employer forgot about them when it was putting its new public transit plan together.

The new plan, which comes into effect June 19, makes major changes to how and when drivers travel between their routes and shifts. Drivers often work two shifts in the same day, but the employer has not made any plans to transport them from where their first shift ends and their second one begins.

“You need to understand how our jobs work,” said CUPE 3434 president Ghislain Leroux. “Drivers have to end their day where they started. If my route ends at the university or the mall but my car is back at the garage, I need to be able to get back.”

One of the issues the union is bringing up is that under the new plan, the bus travelling to and from the bus garage will now only come once an hour, and the last bus will leave just before 9 p.m., even though other routes end much later. Drivers are worried about being stranded at the ends of their routes with no way to get back to the depot.

“Our collective agreement sets aside a certain amount of travel time, but for that to work the whole transit system has to be properly thought out, otherwise we lose an enormous amount of time and are not adequately compensated. Transit users need to understand that this situation is disrespectful of drivers.”