Support staff for the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, Sask. have voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action, up to a full withdrawal of services, when the school year starts again.

The staff, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 5512 chapter, object to their employer’s attempt to remove a long-service recognition benefit that provides employees with payment for 50 per cent of their unused sick leave, up to a maximum of 80 days upon retirement.

Under the current benefit, employees can see a maximum of between $7,000 to just over $14,000 depending on their wages, according to Dave Stevenson, a national representative for the CUPE. “Now, we don’t know how much sick leave anybody has, so that benefit could be zero as well.” 

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Following the vote, the school board has proposed replacing the former retirement benefit with one that totals 10 per cent of annual salary, up to a maximum of $6,000, but only for permanent employees. “Our current benefit, we believe, applies to everybody, including casuals; however, the employer disagrees with us. The language says, ‘any employee,’ and what their new language says is, ‘only permanent employees,'” says Stevenson. “Because most of our members are 10-month employees, we have a lot of members who live below the poverty line if you take that as a yearly salary.”

For example, under the proposed new benefit, an employee with a $25,000 salary would see a maximum of $2,500.

“Originally, the employer wanted to abolish the whole thing altogether,” says Stevenson. “I believe, because we’ve had a strike mandate of 95.7 per cent, that they changed their position and proposed this much inferior one.” 

Read: PEI plumbers union on strike for better wages, benefits

Most of the support staff work just 10 months of the year, so they can’t begin job action until the new school year in the fall, notes Stevenson. “I suspect that we’re probably going to be in a position for job action, but we are taking the employer’s last offer to the membership for a vote; however, the bargaining committee is recommending rejection,” he says.

“We’re really hopeful that we’re not going to have to go on strike, but the membership will tell us.” 

The Prairie South School Division didn’t provide Benefits Canada with comment by the time of publication.

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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