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Wadena: Education workers in the Wadena School Division voted 66% in support of taking job action, if necessary, to conclude a fair settlement.

The strike vote was held last night at union meetings in the school division. Strike notice was served on the employer this morning.

The more than 80 school support workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, work as teaching assistants, secretaries, caretakers and other positions in the division. The division includes schools in Kelvington, Rose Valley, Quill Lake, Archerwill, Wadena, Lintlaw and Lakeside Hutterite Colony.

CUPE local 3078 president Donna Zarowny says although the union negotiating committee has met with the employer 23 times over the last two years, they have little to show for it.

“We’re extremely disappointed that the employer isn’t trying harder to conclude a fair agreement,” says Ms. Zarowny. “Previous agreements were negotiated in months, not years.”

Instead of addressing support workers’ needs for decent wages and benefits, the employer continues to demand CUPE members accept reduced seniority rights and other concessions. Ms. Zarowny says those demands are unacceptable.

CUPE staff representative Sharon Lockwood says members can’t understand why the employer has taken such a hard line. “CUPE school workers have been negotiating with the division board for 16 years, but this is the first time we’ve had so much trouble.”

Unlike teachers, CUPE education workers in the division have no dental plan or optical coverage. And their wages are in the bottom one-third of school board workers’ that are covered by collective agreements. The starting wage for a teaching assistant, for example, is only $8.73 an hour.

The CUPE local president, who works as a library technician in the Wadena Composite School, says over the last 10 years most members’ wages haven’t even kept pace with the cost of living.

Ms. Zarowny says members are not looking for a strike; they are looking for a fair settlement. “Hopefully, the strike mandate will send a wake-up call to the employer that it is time to negotiate one.”

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For more information, contact
CUPE staff representative Sharon Lockwood at 382-8262.