School support workers' union reviews latest contract proposals

Several hundred people attended a rally in downtown Halifax on Tuesday to support the striking members of CUPE Local 5047. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Several hundred people attended a rally in downtown Halifax on Tuesday to support the striking members of CUPE Local 5047. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Officials who represent striking school support workers say they're taking time to review two proposals presented to them on Friday during bargaining talks with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

CUPE Local 5047 president Chris Melanson said Saturday that the union would return to the bargaining table after it has a chance to review the offers.

"We have researchers working on this," he said. "We're working through the weekend, we're sourcing what we can, we're analyzing what we can."

Melanson said the union would not bargain in public. But he confirmed that one item presented on Friday was the idea of changing the work status of employees to allow them to collect federal employment insurance during times when school is not in session.

No 'new' money

That proposal was leaked to CBC in an email Thursday that included a comment from the province's executive director of labour relations. It said the government would not offer any "new" money during the talks.

Melanson said he was disappointed the subject of negotiations became public, but he also disputed that the EI suggestion had previously come to the union.

"It's not something that has been discussed," he said. "If it's a fruitful offer, so be it. If it's not, we want to be able to share why."


The 1,800 members of CUPE Local 5047 have been on strike for more than a month after rejecting a tentative agreement reached and recommended by the union.

Union locals in the other seven regional centres for education accepted the deal. But members in Halifax, predominantly educational programming assistants and early childhood educators — many of them women — have noted the wage increase in the tentative agreement would not be enough to offset the cost-of-living increases they've faced in recent years.

"Our members, many of them make much less than $35,000 a year and living in the [Halifax Regional Municipality], there are expenses, taxes … cost of living that aren't experienced in other areas," said Melanson.

"This isn't an effort of greed or anyone trying to get rich. This is just trying to get a government to understand they have to help people, and we need help."

Wage parity

Government officials, including the premier and education minister, have maintained that CUPE came to the bargaining table looking for wage parity across the province. They maintain the government gave it in the tentative agreement that was reached and recommended to all union locals.

While the strike continues, hundreds of students with disabilities who require in-school support cannot attend class. Although some have returned after the regional centre allowed parents into schools and hired replacement workers, the majority of those students are still at home.

Parents of those students say that is a violation of their children's human rights.

The strike has also shut down the region's pre-primary program, which affects about 3,000 children.