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Health care support workers across Manitoba have overwhelmingly voted to strike if necessary to get a new contract with decent wages.

The 10,000 CUPE members, whose contract was up April 30, have also agreed to mediation to address the negotiations deadlock on two key issues: wages and money to complete wage standardization. Almost 90 per cent of votes cast supported a strike.

We agreed to mediation after the employer offered a ridiculous 0.1 per cent increase in their wage position. They are basically refusing to bargain,” says Marlene Tartsch, chair of CUPE’s provincial health care council.

The employer’s offer is 7.2 per cent over three years while union members are asking for 7, 6 and 6 per cent increases, which they say is justified after years of rollbacks and cutbacks under the former Filmon conservatives.

The overwhelming strike vote clearly says our members are fed up with a situation that treats them unfairly,” says Tartsch. “They want a wage increase that brings them up to par with other health workers and they are prepared to strike to get a fair settlement.”

The province recently struck a deal with its doctors and in April the nurses got a settlement of 20 per cent over a 30-month contract, which will cost about $105 million. Premier Gary Doer has said it’s going to be “tough” to close the gap as the province doesn’t have the money.

Tartsch says with the average health care worker making just $13.50 an hour, the employer’s offer amounts to little more than a 30-cent an hour increase.

Where would the doctors and nurses be without our CUPE members to cook, clean, feed and bathe patients, maintain systems, keep records, handle materials and the countless other tasks we perform for patients in Manitoba’s hospitals, personal care homes and community health clinics?” says Tartsch. “We are the ‘pillars’ that support the health care system and we deserve decent wages like everyone else.”