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Support staff union holds practice picket outside district office, says strike action is possible

Members of the union that represents non-teaching support staff at the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) held a practice picket outside the district headquarters July 21.
Members of United Steelworkers Local 8223, which represents non-teaching support staff at the School
Members of United Steelworkers Local 8223, which represents non-teaching support staff at the School District of Mystery Lake, held a practice picket outside the district office on Thompson Drive July 21 as they seek a new contract to replace the one that expired in 2017.

Members of the union that represents non-teaching support staff at the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) held a practice picket outside the district headquarters July 21.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8223 represents about 185 SDML employees, including custodians, maintenance workers, educational assistants, librarian clerks, information technology staff and other support staff who have been without a contract or wage increases since 2017.

All members who voted were in favour of a strike mandate in late June.

There doesn’t seem to be much urgency on the part of the employer to gwt the contract settled, according to a union representative, which could lead to a labour disruption when summer ends.

“The school division has the assistance of a negotiator from the Manitoba School Board Association based out of Winnipeg, who appears to be stalling the process and not providing dates for the parties to meet in effort to reach a fair contract,” said USW District 3 staff representative Matt Winterton in an email. “The stalling and reluctance to meet coupled with the stresses of the pandemic has left union members extremely frustrated and agitated and rightfully so. It’s becoming evident that if the employer continues to stall and if a fair contract is not reached, come the regular commencement of the upcoming school year, the members of USW Local 8223 will not be returning. This would be truly unfortunate especially when the solution is simply for the employer to do the right thing, come to the table and join the union in reaching a fair contract.” 

Winterton said unionized support staff and teachers at other school districts have negotiated recent contracts that effectively increase their wages and that USW 8223 expects the same.

“Although the School District of Mystery Lake and USW Local 8223 have not yet reached monetary discussions, the membership believes strongly that they should be treated with the same respect and dignity as their counterparts in teaching roles and support staff in other school divisions.”

USW Local 8223 members were joined at the practice picket by Thompson Teachers’ Association president Cathy Pellizarro.

“Thompson teachers support USW 8223 at the school district and hope they get a fair contract very soon,” she said. “Four years without a contract is way too long.”

Picketers said they were receiving great support in the form of honks from passing vehicles and donations of bottled water and doughnuts.

SDML declined to comment on the practice picket or the status of contract negotiations.