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At a well-attended meeting at an area high school last night, custodians and trades staff with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board gave union negotiators a strong
95 per cent strike vote mandate, a move they say will protect both jobs and the quality of services.

With this vote, we are drawing a line in the sand — our jobs and the work we do will not be a casualty of the provincially-appointed supervisor’s deficit reduction plan. The McGuinty government needs to be clear; the fight for fair funding for school support services is right here in Peel,” says Larry Stevenson, the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1483.

Throughout negotiations, which began in November, the 700 custodians and trades staff have faced the threat of job loss and an erosion of workplace protections, as Norbert Hartmann — the supervisor charged with making service and program cuts on behalf of the province — has ultimate authority over the board’s finances, including the approval of a new contract settlement.

Stevenson says that his members were optimistic last month’s budget announcement would have included new funding to address consistent shortfalls for facility operations — that includes custodial and maintenance budgets. But, of the $710 million new money announced, none was allocated to provide an adequate increase to facility operations.

In areas like Dufferin-Peel, where population is growing and new schools are being built, this means that there will be fewer custodians and trades staff to keep more schools clean, safe and well repaired.

The message to parents and students is that the McGuinty Liberals don’t think that keeping schools clean and well-maintained is important in giving students a quality education.

And the message to custodians and trades people is that this government doesn’t respect us or the work we do, and that increasing our workload through underfunding is justifiable. Well, it’s not,” says Stevenson, who points to the recent two-week labour dispute in Durham.

The 2100 members of CUPE 218 — Durham public board support staff — were on the picket line fighting similar staffing and workload issues that are the result of flawed education funding.

Negotiations between CUPE 1483 and the school board resume on May 8 with the assistance of a labour ministry conciliator.