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Biggar: Support staff in the Biggar Public School Division will commence job action on Monday, rather than accept the employers final offer containing concessions and take-aways.

The 46 teaching and library assistants, secretaries and caretakers - members of CUPE Local 2128 - work in schools in Biggar, Cando, Sonningdale, Handel, Landis and three Hutterite colonies. Its the first time in the 30-year history of the bargaining unit that members have been forced to strike to defend their collective agreement and achieve a fair settlement.

The membership voted 89% in support of taking job action at a union meeting on January 15. The CUPE education workers were hopeful that conciliation talks yesterday would see the Board drop its many concessions and all out attack on seniority rights. But the Board continued to demand major concessions from the education workers. When conciliation talks broke off at 2 a.m. today, the two sides remained far apart.

Many CUPE members in the school division feel hurt and betrayed by the Boards actions. I think the Boards efforts to rip up our collective agreement show tremendous disrespect, says Bea Devenny, a teaching assistant in Biggar. We deserve to be treated better.

The membership is seeking the same dental and health benefits as their CUPE counterparts in the separate school division in Biggar. They also want to receive the same pay equity adjustments as separate school employees. But the Board is refusing to provide parity.

The Boards actions have forced our members to strike for a fair agreement, says the CUPE staff representative Bill Robb. We will not give up our seniority rights and other achievements built up over thirty years, he says.

The picket lines will be up outside the Biggar Public School Division office on Monday morning at 8 a.m.

Conciliation talks with the bus drivers and mechanic, the other CUPE bargaining unit in the school division, continue to make progress towards a first agreement.

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For more information, call Bill Robb at the Saskatoon CUPE office, 382-8262