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About 200 members of CUPE 1618 in the Sunrise School Division in eastern Manitoba are on strike.

The strike began April 8 after negotiations broke down over the issue of wage parity with other school division workers. School Division amalgamation last year put together workers who are doing similar work, but who receive very different salaries. A Special Needs Assistant, for example, could receive $10.69 or $17.34 an hour - depending on which side of the Division they work in.

“The school division has just dragged their feet. They knew about amalgamation for over a year and what it would mean for their budget but they waited until the last minute to do anything. Then their solution is to refuse a wage payment that’s common in other school divisions,” said Jackie Hampshire, President of Local 1618.

The union also wants to change pension plans, from a defined contribution plan to defined benefit plan, which will give members better benefits and at less cost. Ironically, this change would also cost less for the School Division.

The strike will set the stage for bargaining across the province and how School Divisions deal with the wage parity and pension plan issues. Amalgamation of School Divisions is generally seen as practical but Trustees appear intent on making support workers pay for the change. With a provincial election coming it also seems School Divisions think they can force the Union to join them in lobbying for more funding.

Local 1618 provides custodial, maintenance, bus driving and teaching assistance support to the Division.