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CUPE held its first national meeting for members of school board locals in Regina, Mar 2-4, 2009.

School workers want more effective tools to communicate across the sector, a campaign to secure improved employment insurance benefits, zero tolerance for school bullying and workplace violence, and strategies to strengthen their bargaining power from coast to coast.

Video from the meeting:

The three-day conference which wrapped up Mar. 4 in Regina inspired the 270 conference participants to fight for “a living wage” for CUPE’s 100,000 school board workers. “Education assistants in my local make a good hourly wage, but because we only work six hour hours a day and are only employed for nine months of the year, we’re earning just $23,000 a year. It’s tough,” says CUPE 2268 member Gwen Murphy, a single parent in Saskatoon.

Terri Preston, an adult education instructor in Toronto and Vice-President of CUPE 4400, also urged conference participants to demand improvements to employment insurance benefits. “When you’re only making $17,000 a year, how can you survive on 55% of your wages [over the summer] on EI?”

Conference participants expressed support for more co-ordinated bargaining and increased solidarity among education locals.

In a presentation to conference delegates on Tuesday, CUPE researcher Paul O’Donnell noted central bargaining has become a priority for the school board sector. Four provinces already have this type of framework model. With CUPE’s recent successes in Ontario, more locals are starting to form provincial committees to negotiate directly with their governments and decision makers, he said.

As a sector, we are all underpaid, all overworked and all underfunded,” Victor Patton, a facility operator and member of CUPE 40 in Calgary told delegates on the final morning. “I find it encouraging that we share the same problems and are going to work together to solve them,” he stated.

Delegates also thanked conference organizers for the opportunity to network on issues. As CUPE 5555 member Don Postar told delegates during the closing plenary discussion: “This conference has created an ideal opportunity for school board workers across the country to talk about our common issues, learn from other locals successes and discuss the next steps towards a more coordinated bargaining process,” said Postar. “We are going back home empowered with some great ideas and projects.”

In his concluding remarks, CUPE’s National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux said the conference reflected the union’s commitment to creating “a stronger national dialogue” among the union’s sectors. “This is only the beginning of what we hope will be a long story in the education sector. The next step will be to make a stronger collective commitment in coordinating our bargaining efforts,” he stated.