Chignecto-Central school support staff in N.S. on strike

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TRURO - Striking members of CUPE Local 3890 will be back on the picket line this morning.

Wayne Hurley was one of a few picketers outside the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board offices on Monday to carry a sign on a post.

More than 400 custodians, bus drivers and tradespeople are on strike to demand job security from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board and showed up en masse Monday in front of the board's offices on Lorne Street with signs to make their intentions known.

Rumours began to circulate Monday that the two sides agreed to mediation, but those rumours were quashed by John McCracken, the communications representative for CUPE.

"At one point in the day it looked like we might get to that point (mediation)," McCracken said. "But it didn't come to fruition, so we'll be on the picket line (Tuesday) morning.

"That's bargaining," McCracken added. "That's like every round of bargaining I've ever been involved in."

Members of Local 3890 voted 54 per cent during a ratification vote Sunday to strike, leaving the board's 20,000 students to find their own transportation to and from school, as about 100 buses are off the road. All extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, and schools will not be available for use by non-school groups. Cleaning is also down to nights and weekends and will be carried out by management and non-unionized staff.

The picketers weren't a happy lot on the line on Monday as the majority walked with placards around their necks.

"The signs say it all," said one picketer, who wished to remain anonymous. "We're afraid our jobs are being contracted out and the board is bullying us. It's a sombre mood in that we had to go on strike."

The picketers caused some headaches for people trying to make their way around the area Monday morning. Several other offices are located in the same building as the school board and Cobequid Educational Centre, which saw exams begin for its students on Monday, sits next door.

Traffic was backed up in both directions on Lorne at times as picketers slowly made their way across the driveways to the offices and schools and at least one student was frustrated as she attempted to get to school.

"I'm trying to get to my exam so hurry up and get out of the way," she screamed out her rolled down window as she sat behind a vehicle trying to turn into the school board offices.

Once the way was clear the student sped down Lorne Street to the school.

Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager with the school board, said Monday morning no meetings had been scheduled at that point to resume talks between the board and CUPE.

"It's only day one, so no, nothing has been scheduled," she said, as the picketers continued outside the offices. "But I'm sure those will come as we continue on."

A number of drivers honked to show their support to the members on strike, and one picketer was passing out doughnuts, which he said were courtesy of a teacher.

Education Minister Karen Casey, who is the MLA for Colchester North, said things are in the works to support the students.

"We're working as a government to determine what we can do and how we can do it so that students don't suffer," she said. "I expect we'll have something shortly. We're looking at all our options right now to get the students into the classrooms."

Truro Police Chief David MacNeil said the department received some calls Monday morning concerning the traffic congestion.

"We want people to be aware that they may expect traffic delays but to be patient, and use an alternate route if possible," he said. "Or even leave a little earlier."

Organizations: CUPE, Chignecto-Central school, Central Regional School Board Cobequid Educational Centre

Geographic location: Lorne Street, N.S., Chignecto Colchester North

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