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The Toronto Star
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Byline: Tess Kalinowski

Striking Durham custodial and maintenance workers, secretaries and education assistants are expected back in their schools Tuesday after the board and its support workers’ union reached a tentative agreement yesterday.

About 2,100 workers, members of Local 218 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have been on strike since March 21. The union has been without a contract for about a year and had been seeking a three-year agreement.

Workers are expected to ratify the agreement tomorrow in a daylong vote being held at the Polish Veterans Association General Sikorski Hall in Oshawa. The Durham District School Board is expected to convene a special ratification meeting tomorrow evening.

A joint news release issued by the union and school board late yesterday afternoon said there will be no pickets tomorrow. Board and union officials last night refused to give details of the contract pending ratification. But officials on both sides said they were pleased that life likely would be returning to normal in the 132 affected schools.

The strike – the local’s first in 22 years – “is not something we took lightly,” said CUPE 218 President Don Bryans. “I’m sure there will be a lot of catch-up to get things back to normal,” said Bryans.
He called the strike “fairly quiet, fairly straightforward.”

During the strike, workers held a rally at Queen’s Park and picketed schools, slowing the entrance of some cars entering school property. But things were mostly peaceful. In one incident, a striker was said to be unharmed after being bumped by a car following an altercation between a driver and another striker.

The union has maintained that wages and workload were the major issues leading up to the strike. It also claimed educational assistants needed preparation time and school secretaries were being asked to do work on their own time. Union officials said the board had been offering educational assistants the equivalent of 1.5 minutes a day of prep time.

In terms of wages, the union had been looking for 9.2 per cent increases over a three-year deal. The board was said to be offering 8.2 per cent. Until now, educational assistants at the board have been earning up to $22. 17 an hour; custodial/maintenance workers, including cafeteria assistants and caretakers, have been making up to $24.57 an hour; and clerical and technical staff earn up to $29.43 an hour.

Schools have remained open since the employees walked off the job but community use of the buildings and night classes were cancelled. Some parents, worried about their special-needs children’s well-being without the help of educational assistants, had also opted to keep them home.

There are about 70,000 students in the Durham public board. The union representing about 700 custodians and trades staff at the Dufferin- Peel Catholic District School Board filed for conciliation on Monday. Talks with that school board, which is being managed by a provincially appointed supervisor, are at an impasse, said CUPE 1483 President Larry Stevenson in a news release on Thursday.