Living Waters support workers strike off to a rough start

But talks to resume this week

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

At some point, the union representing Living Waters Catholic School Division support workers and the school board are going to have to work things out. But given the fighting mood of the AUPE news releases on the first two days of the strike, it might not be for a while.

On Day 1 of the strike (or lockout, if you prefer), AUPE Vice President Rod Feland accused Living Waters of treating support workers “like they’re worthless and replaceable.”

That was on Sept. 28, in response to statements by Living Waters about how fair their wage offer was.

Then, on Monday, Oct. 1, things got worse. A picketer was hit by a car entering the school division headquarters in Whitecourt. According to the AUPE release, “A 37-year-old employee of Living Waters School Board was struck by a vehicle driven by a senior executive member of Living Waters,” and “sent to hospital with injuries.”

That said, Feland got back to the issues that provoked the support staff to vote in favour of job action.

“Members are looking for defined hours of work to create a more stable work environment for students,” the release says. “They also want compensation to cover the rising cost of living.”

Living Waters has said that it does value its support workers, but can’t afford to offer them more money. It also says the support workers are paid similarly to those in other jurisdictions – a contention the AUPE disputes.

According to an Oct. 3 release from Living Waters, the two sides did sit down on Tuesday, Oct. 2 to talk things over, but not much was accomplished.

“Living Waters is disappointed that a deal has not been reached,” it says. “The parties have agreed to return to the table on Oct. 9, 2018.”

That’s the day this paper comes out.

In the meantime, Living Waters says, “Our schools remain open, our staff remain committed to meeting the needs of our students and we thank our school community for their understanding and patience.”

It’s probably a good sign that the two sides (with a mediator) were able to spend 13 hours talking on Oct. 2. An AUPE spokesperson says, “The union’s goals remain the same: stable, defined hours of work, a predictable work schedule throughout the year and a reasonable cost of living wage increase.”

Strikers on the picket line last Thursday.

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