AMHERST - School board workers have delivered a strong message to their employer - they will strike if contract demands are not met.
Bus drivers, custodians and maintenance personnel employed by Chignecto Central Regional School Board (CCRSB) overwhelmingly voted 93 per cent in favour of strike action to back their contract demands and to fight employer demands for major concessions.
"It's not what we want, we're in bargaining to bargain, but we are in total opposition of contracting out any of our work," said Terry Goulding, CUPE National Representative based in New Glasgow. "If these issues are not resolved to our satisfaction we will strike."
On Saturday members of CUPE Local 3890 voted in New Glasgow, Truro and Amherst. About 600 board employees are unionized by CUPE.
Unlike student transportation in Colchester and Pictou counties, Cumberland County school bus service is provided by a private contractor, but a strike would affect both custodial and maintenance staff at schools here.
The union and the board began bargaining at the local level in January and the issues that are outstanding come under two headings: job security and equality.
"The employer is proposing to eliminate parts of services union members currently provide in regards to some of the bus routes and plan to replace it with private conveyance," said Goulding.
CCRSB spokeswoman Carolyn Pierce said it is too early in the negotiation process to talk about specifics but added she thinks a resolution will be reached to prevent strike action.
"We have every confidence the parties will reach a mutually acceptable agreement," said Pierce.
She said the board has plans in place for emergencies, and if needed, it will review them according to the situation and adapt them as necessary.
Goulding said employees are frustrated no progress has been made to settle outstanding issues since local bargaining began in January, including three days with the services of a Department of Labour conciliation officer.
Provincial bargaining will begin later this month and into October and could involve wage increases or wage parity negotiations.
"A strike is not eminent at this time," said Goulding. However, if provincial negotiations break down before reaching a solution the union could be in a legal strike position.
The previous collective agreement held by this pool of employees expired March 31, 2007.
"To this point the union negotiators have the distinct impression that this employer is not taking our proposals seriously," said Ron Davis, CUPE Local 3890 president. "It is our hope that with this strong strike vote from CUPE members, they will return to the bargaining table to make a serious attempt at settling those outstanding issues.