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FERGUS Upper Grand elementary and secondary school custodians, maintenance and trades people gave their bargainning committee an unprecedented 99% strike mandate on Saturday in their negotiations with the school board. They want to be respected by the board for their contribution to the school system and say that the days of being treated like second class citizens are over. The workers launched a community outreach and media campaign, asking parents, teachers and concerned citizens to urge the board to recognize the value of their work.

They have all experienced this lack of respect first-hand, says Jill Smyth, CUPE national representative and chief negotiator for the local, CUPE 256. From something as simple as accessing sick days to not being taken seriously in negotiations, our members have had enough. The workers have been without a contract since December 31st, 2003.

The board just negotiated a 3 percent wage increase with their teachers and clerical staff. For their custodial and maintenance staff, the board is offering a measly half a percent. This difference represents the general attitude of the board towards the hard working people that keep our schools safe and clean, continued Smyth.

We may pick up the crumbs in the cafeteria, but we dont take crumbs home to our families, said one custodian after hearing the details of the boards offer. The work we do is important to the students, teachers and community and the board has got to learn to understand and respect that.

Upper Grand District school board custodians clean over 19,500 square feet of school hallways, classrooms, washrooms and yards a day and are paid over $1.50 less an hour than custodians in schools across central and southern Ontario.

Both parties will be meeting with a Labour Ministry appointed conciliator on March 31st, 2004. Parents, teachers and concerned citizens are asked to call their trustees to say, custodians, maintenance and trades workers deserve respect too. The names, jurisdictions, and contact information of the school boards trustees can be found at http://www.ugdsb.on.ca/trustees.htm

CUPE 256 represents 230 Upper Grand custodians, maintenance and trades workers in over 70 elementary and secondary schools.

For more information, please contact:
Jill Smyth
CUPE National Representative
(519) 743-7781

Diane Kalen
CUPE Communications
(647) 224-0662