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Biggar: Support staff in the Biggar Public School Division voted 89% in support of taking job action, if necessary, to persuade the employer to drop its demands for concessions and take-aways. The education workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2128, held the strike vote at a membership meeting on January 15.

The 46 support staff includes secretaries, teaching and library assistants and caretakers working in schools in Biggar, Cando, Landis, Handel, Sonningdale and three Hutterite colonies in the Division.

The school support workers are seeking wage increases and improved benefit coverage in this bargaining round. But the Board is attempting to re-write the entire collective agreement, taking away seniority rights and other benefits support workers have negotiated over the past 30 years.

Members feel hurt and betrayed by the Boards actions, says CUPE staff representative Bill Robb, and the strike vote is a reflection of this fact. This is not a first agreement and it will not be treated that way.

The membership is seeking improved dental benefits and an extended health benefit plan. Mr. Robb notes that the CUPE members working for the Catholic School Board in Biggar already have negotiated these benefit improvements. Members also expect fair and equitable wage increases.

Our members arent looking for a strike, says the CUPE staff representative. But if thats what it takes for this Board to negotiate an agreement that values and respects its employees, our members are prepared to act, he says.

The CUPE support staff and the Board have been negotiating with the assistance of a Department of Labour conciliator for the past several weeks. The parties are scheduled to meet again at the bargaining table on January 31 and February 4.

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