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Wadena: School support workers in the Wadena School Division in Saskatchewan were on the picket line April 9, asking local residents to give them a hand to achieve a fair settlement.

The workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3078, held the one-day walk-out to demonstrate their anger and frustration with the lack of progress in contract negotiations.

Schools in Kelvington, Rose Valley, Quill Lake, Archerwill, Wadena, Lintlaw and Lakeside Hutterite Colony were affected by the walk-out.

“We want to send a clear message to school board members that it is their refusal to negotiate a fair agreement that has caused this strike,” said CUPE local president Donna Zarowny, adding it’s the first time in the division’s history that support workers have set-up picket lines.

The more than 80 education workers, which include teacher assistants, secretaries, caretakers and library technicians, have been without a new agreement since December 31, 2000.

Although they have been to the bargaining table 23 times, little progress has been made.

Instead of addressing support workers’ need for wage and benefit improvements, the employer continues to demand CUPE members accept reduced seniority rights and other concessions. Ms. Zarowny says many members feel insulted by the board’s proposals.

“We need a significant wage increase to bring our salaries up to the provincial average,” says Ms. Zarowny. “Most of wage increases over the last 10 years haven’t even kept pace with the cost of living,” she adds.

The starting wage for a teaching assistant in the Wadena School Division, for example, is only $8.73 an hour, 16% less than the provincial average.

Unlike teachers, CUPE members in the school division also have no dental plan or optical coverage. And they do not receive any pay when the schools are closed for holidays or school breaks.

Ms. Zarowny noted that many school divisions with smaller student enrolment provide better wages and benefits to their support staff. “If Biggar, Leader, Rosetown, Deer Park, Kamsack and other school divisions can provide decent wages and benefits for education workers, the Wadena School Division can too.”

CUPE members hope the one-day walk-out persuades the division board to return to the bargaining table and negotiate a reasonable contract with its support staff.

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For more information: contact the CUPE Saskatoon office at 382-8262 and leave a message for Donna Zarowny or CUPE staff rep Sharon Lockwood.