Mediation continues between NESD, education support workers

by Nicole Goldsworthy
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Humboldt Journal

The North East School Division and the union representing its education support workers are expected to have met with a mediator June 7 to break an impasse over a new contract.

Two tentative agreements were rejected by CUPE 4875 membership.

CUPE 4875 said mediation started in May.

“The parties (NESD and the Local 4875 bargaining committee) met with Kristin Anderson, who is the Executive Director, Labour Relations and Mediation with the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. This was a hybrid meeting through TEAMS, our bargaining committee was together in person with both the employer and the mediator attending virtually.

“There was a lot of discussion around what options were available. We did not come to a resolve but are working through some ideas. We will not be providing any details at this point about options that are being looked at. We have scheduled another meeting for June 7. We will provide another update after that meeting.”

The union and the school division will be undertaking mandatory mediation as per the Saskatchewan Employment Act. Two tentative agreements were rejected by the membership.

The NESD did not respond to inquiries regarding the ongoing negotiations.

The biggest outstanding issue is wages, and the recruitment and retention issue many classifications are facing.

“Education support workers play an invaluable role in our education system, providing vital assistance and support to students and teachers alike. It is disheartening that their dedication and hard work have not been adequately recognized, with years passing without a significant wage increase,” said Debbie Dufault, president of CUPE 4875 and an education assistant with the North East School Division. “With the rising cost of living, our current wages are untenable and undermines the vital contributions these workers make to the success of our schools.

“We are seeing an impact on our ability to recruit and retain staff. Why work as a certified educational assistant for North East School Division for $21.42 an hour when you can go do the same job at Sask. Rivers School Division for $27.08?”

CUPE 4875 said it firmly believes in fair compensation for education support workers. Over the last ten years wages have been stagnant, the union said. Between the rising cost of living and years of meager wage increases, education support workers have experienced a loss of purchasing power of 10 per cent.

“CUPE 4875 remains committed to engaging in constructive dialogue with the North East School Division in order to reach a fair and equitable resolution.

“We are eager to resume negotiations with a skilled mediator and find a path forward that recognizes the value of education support workers and addresses our long-standing wage concerns,” said Janice Janzen, CUPE National Representative.

CUPE 4875 said it wants to assure parents and students that there is no threat of job action in the near future, though a strike vote may be considered if mediation fails.

“We urge parents, students, and the broader community to stand in solidarity with our education support workers and support their right to fair compensation. Together, let us work towards a solution that ensures a sustainable and thriving education system for all,” concluded Dufault.