All New Frontier School Board (NFSB) schools will be closed to students for the entire day on May 11 in reaction to a planned strike by members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE-SEPB), which includes office and IT workers, daycare workers, noon-hour supervisors, special education technicians, and attendants.
According to NFSB assistant director general Mike Helm, the board decided to close all of its schools and centres as the employees directly involved in the strike action support the daily activities within each of the buildings.“We have also been advised that picket lines will be formed in front of all our buildings,” he says. The NFSB recognizes that employees belonging to other unions will refuse to cross picket lines in support of their coworkers.
“We understand that these already difficult times are being made more difficult,” says Helm, while noting the board is working to support student learning as best it can as the negotiation process continues.
Employees with the NFSB belong to four different unions, of which three are currently in a legal position to strike. The full day strike announced by the SEPB, which includes members of the union local 576, will be the third time that classes will be interrupted this spring by protest action. White collar workers, education professionals and teachers, all of which are negotiating with the provincial government after more than a year without a collective agreement, say the strikes are necessary in order for their voices to be heard.
“We are asking the government to recognize our members,” says Bonnie Gilmour, the interim local president of SEPB 576, which includes members from the NFSB and Riverside School Board.
“The support staff in our schools, administrative offices and centers are deflated, both physically, mentally, and emotionally,” she says. “Many are working split shifts, 10 months of the year and on average often less than 20 hours a week,” Gilmour explains. She notes that many members, while playing an integral role within our schools, are currently living below the poverty line. “It is not only about the money. We are also looking for job security.”
In order to ensure their requests are resonated at the negotiating table, SEPB 576 members will be establishing picket lines in front of each school, centre, and administrative office to make sure staff remain in their bubbles while continuing to distance. “With COVID, we are working hard to provide our members with a safe place to stand up and have their voices heard,” says Gilmour.