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Strike notice issued to school division in Manitoba, union wants fairer wages

Click to play video: 'Strike notice issued to school division in Manitoba, union wants fairer wages'
Strike notice issued to school division in Manitoba, union wants fairer wages
Educational assistants in southeastern Manitoba could soon walk off their jobs pending negotiations for a new contract – Oct 26, 2023

Educational assistants in southeastern Manitoba could soon walk off their jobs pending negotiations for a new contract.

A strike notice was issued by the union representing over 200 educational assistants (EA) to the Hanover School Division on Wednesday. The union, a local branch of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), had met the school division on Oct. 24. In a press release the day after, they said members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate.

Negotiations have been ongoing since March this year. The two parties are set to meet on Oct. 30. As per the notice, if a deal is not met by the end of day Tuesday, next week, workers will walk off the job.

The issues being brought to the table include calls for competitive and fairer wages.

“We’re hopeful… we feel like we have demonstrated to the employer that their employees are unhappy enough that they’re ready to walk,” said Goeff Dueck Thiessen, regional director with the CLAC in Manitoba.

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“We’re got some improvements to sick pay that we’re looking for. These folks are amongst maybe the only EAs in the province who don’t have a paid rest break. We’re looking at education premiums. We’re looking at hourly rates. We’re also looking for the number of days in a school year to be consistent.”

Dueck Thiessen said that the work EAs do is crucial for the classroom. Working in an environment with a high risk of violence and risk to workplace safety and health, he said, is all part of the job. He noted that the risk comes at times with the students with whom an EA works. Though not all students are violent, he added that there is a “high risk element to the occupation.”

“We’re talking about something that you’d want someone to be paid well to do. I don’t think the public is aware of just how much is going on in schools that these folks are dealing with,” said Dueck Thiessen. He added that, on average, the EAs in the school division are paid $4 less than those around the province.

But Danielle Funk, a trustee with the school division and the chair of the negotiating committee, said that it’s difficult for the division to meet some of the requests.

“We are in a very difficult financial position,” said Funk. She noted that the work an educational assistant does is very crucial. But being able to meet the demands of the union would be difficult.

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According to Funk, the strike notice came as a surprise. While she remains hopeful that it could be resolved, she added that plans are underway in case a strike does take place. Such plans would look different for each school in the division.

“(It) definitely will affect each school individually as they have different schedules; how the days look, what students need (EA) support and how the schools use their support,” said Funk.

“It could affect a bunch of individual students and it could also affect how we run certain classrooms and how we work our day when it comes to supervision at recess and lunch time.”

In a press release on Oct. 26, the school division stated that it was committed to continuing collective bargaining. It added that a strike action could disrupt services, and that it is prioritizing the well-being and education of students.

“The division is finalizing plans and is prepared to do our very best to deliver quality education to our students. Further communications will be sent to the families impacted by the strike action and the employees of the Division,” read part of the release.

“Divisional resources must be managed efficiently, effectively and in a manner that demonstrates responsibility to the public and taxpayers of the division.”

The Hanover School Division represents a number of schools in various communities in southeastern Manitoba, including in Steinbach and the rural municipality of Hanover.

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