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Halifax-area CUPE workers to return to work Monday after accepting tentative deal

After more than a month of picketing, about 1,800 CUPE Local 5047 members will be returning to work Monday after ratifying their latest contract offer.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education announced Sunday the striking educational support workers had voted in favour of the tentative agreement on Saturday.

While CUPE members are happy to be returning back to work, the union said they are still disappointed with the agreement.

“It’s not a day of celebration, it’s a bit of a somber day,” said Chris Melanson, CUPE Local 5047 president. “The agreement has some small gains -- but it’s not perfect. No one can say that.”

For members, receiving higher pay was a major sticking point. The union said this is because some workers were having a hard time making ends meet.

The initial agreement offered by the province included a 6.5 per cent wage hike over three years, which other locals around Nova Scotia accepted.

However, due to the cost of living in the Halifax-area, CUPE Local 5047 did not agree to the deal.

The new agreement signed between CUPE members and the province did not meet the wage expectations.

Melanson said members left the bargaining table deeply upset with the new agreement and accepted it because the province refused to budge.

“We pushed government hard on increasing and moving away from their wage pattern. Government came forward with a mandate and they feel they can’t be moved past the mandate.”

The 6.5 per cent wage hike in the initial agreement will remain. It will also include retroactive pay for the time members worked without a contract from 2020 to 2022, vacation staging, and opportunities for parental leave, which members did not have before.

“Our membership that’s highly female-based, parental and maternity and adoptive leave options that don’t impact people as horribly as they could have financially,” said Melanson.

He adds funding toward education is vital.

“(The) education sector needs the workers that we represent. If government is going to base funding on an inclusion-based funding model they need to follow through with it.”

This is bittersweet for many families.

Heather Langley’s daughter Lucy will be returning to school on Monday. While Lucy is thrilled to be returning after missing five weeks, she only has seven days left in the school year.

“I know it’s confusing to her,” Langley said. “She’ll be really excited to go back, but I think children like Lucy are not going to understand, ‘why was I kicked out of school?’”

Langley said she is disappointed with the province and how they handled negotiations with CUPE.

“This would not have been accepted for any other marginalized groups, so why was it suddenly OK to kick children with disabilities out of school?”

She said she has lost faith in this government.

“This government has sent a strong message that it doesn’t value children with disability and doesn’t value the inclusive education policy.”

Langley told CTV News that she has filed a human rights complaint against government.

“I’ve opened an investigation through the ombudsman office. Many have gotten lawyers. This fight isn’t over.

The fight also continues for CUPE members. Melanson said the contract will expire in six months and they are taking these little gains, but will return to the bargaining table and continue to fight for what they believe is a fair contract. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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