Canadian School Workers To Strike Against 5-Year Pay Freeze

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CANADIAN Union of Public Employees (CUPE) school worker members in the City of Nanaimo’s Ladysmith school district, British Columbia, have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

Members of CUPE local 606 voted 89 per cent in favour of job action after contract talks stalled. The main issues are job security and wages.

The contract for the 900 workers expired a year ago and CUPE officials say the workers haven’t had a wage increase since 2009. The average wage is $24,000 per year.

CUPE Local 606 general vice-president Kelly Dunaway says the high support for strike action reflects the growing frustration among his members.

‘This provincial government has consistently underfunded our public school system over the past decade to the point where programmes and services for our kids are on the chopping block,’ says Dunaway.

‘We are talking about the dedicated, professional CUPE education workers who keep our schools clean safe and inclusive and protecting the quality of public education in BC.’

The strike mandate does not automatically mean there will be a strike and any job action must be preceded by 72-hour strike notice through the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

Provincial-level talks ended in April.

Most 57 CUPE K-12 locals are expected to have passed strike votes by the end of June and the provincial CUPE K-12 Presidents’ Council has said it is preparing for probable province-wide job action in autumn.

Dunaway added: ‘The last thing we want to do is disrupt classes, but without a commitment from the province and School District 68 to actually negotiate a fair and reasonable contract, our options are quickly disappearing.’

CUPE 606 represents a wide variety of workers, such as bus drivers, education assistants, aboriginal education assistants, clerical staff, carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers, HVAC, mechanics, gardeners, painters, caretakers, IS Department, supervision aides, crossing guards, library clerks, and printer/graphic technicians.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Council has condemned as ‘unconstitional’ anti-union legislation planned by the Harper government.

The Conservative government and its anti-union allies cannot find a single constitutional expert who will agree that Bill C-377 is constitutional, says Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

‘This bill singles out unions and their members for discriminatory treatment and it interferes with their right to freedom of association,’ says Georgetti.

‘Every credible expert to appear before parliamentary committees has said so. This is a bird that won’t fly.’

Bill C-377 would force every labour organisation in Canada to file detailed financial information to be posted publicly on a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website.

The government claims that this should be done in the name of transparency because union members can deduct their dues from income tax.

However, doctors, lawyers, accountants and others can deduct their professional association fees from their income tax as well, but Bill C-377 would apply to none of those groups.

In 2012, the Canadian Bar Association told the House of Commons Finance Committee that Bill C-377 should be withdrawn because it would invade the personal privacy of individual Canadians and is probably unconstitutional.

In Senate hearings over the last two weeks, Professor Bruce Ryder of the Osgoode Hall Law School faculty called the proposed legislation a ‘Trojan Horse’ that will use the Income Tax Act to single out and regulate unions.

He predicted that the bill, if passed, will eventually be declared unconstitutional.

Georgetti says: ‘This bill is being used by the Conservatives to bully union members and to force us to provide detailed information that employer groups will then be able to use against us.’

Georgetti points to the lobbying effort being mounted on Bill C-377 by Merit Canada, an employer group whose aim is to get rid of unions in the construction industry.

Terrance Oakey, Merit Canada’s president, is a former Conservative staffer.

He has met with senior government officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on 13 occasions since 2012 on C-377 including meetings with with Nigel Wright, who was the prime minister’s chief of staff until he resigned recently due to his involvement in the expense scandal surrounding Senator Mike Duffy.

Georgetti says: ‘Bill C-377 is not about transparency. It’s an attempt by the Conservative government and well-connected insiders to bully and discriminate against the hard working men and women who belong to labour unions in Canada.’

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner testified last week that she continues to have concerns about the personal privacy violations contained in the bill.

The Senate banking committee hearings into Bill C-377 continue this month.

The Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of the labour movement, represents 3.3 million Canadian workers. The CLC brings together Canada’s national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.

l Officials representing unionised elevator technicians in Ontario say unlicensed workers are being used to replace them during their strike and are calling on the industry’s provincial regulator to do more to ensure public safety isn’t compromised.

‘To become a mechanic, to be able to work alone on these elevators, our guys and girls have to go through roughly 7,200 hours of field training over four years and 720 hours of education, or classroom training, over four years,’ said Dan Vinette, business manager for International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 96, which represents Ottawa, Kingston and Gatineau area members.

The union’s 1,400 members went on strike on May 1 after failing to reach an agreement with Kone, Otis, Schindler and ThyssenKrupp, the four major elevator companies in the province.

Since then, Vinette says, Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) has admitted to Local 96 that some mechanics are not properly licensed to work on elevators, as mandated by the province’s Technical Standards and Safety Act.

Wilson Lee, a spokesman for the TSSA, said companies are not required to provide the authority with proof of certification prior to maintenance, so licences are generally only checked if inspectors happen upon mechanics while they’re working or a complaint is made.

But Vinette said the onus is on the TSSA to make sure mechanics hold the right certification.

The Local 96 official said: ‘I wish that the regulating authority did the job of making sure that people working on elevators are properly licensed and the elevators that are in service are being properly inspected. I’m concerned the TSSA isn’t doing their job.’

Prior to the strike, there was an increase in the number of applications for certification reviewed, said Lee. Since it began, the TSSA has responded to more than a dozen complaints from union members and the general public.

In two instances, said Lee, mechanics were deemed to have improper certification and were therefore working illegally.

The TSSA is considering what actions to take against the mechanics and the companies, Lee said.