A school bus driver strike has forced the Winnipeg School Division to come up with a number of contingency plans for parents to get their kids to class.
Before and after-school programs have been introduced at schools, with drop-off times after 7 a.m. and pickup before 6 p.m.
“That assists some parents who would normally not be able to drive their child to school, because they have to get to work or are working later,” said Radean Carter, senior information officer for the school division.
The other options for parents include enrolling their children in their local catchment English-language school for the duration of the strike, or providing remote learning for students who have supervision at home and can’t get to school.
Neither of the latter options have had much uptake, Carter said, with the vast majority of parents opting to driver their children to school.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832, which represents 95 school bus drivers in the division, officially went on strike Wednesday. Drivers set up a picket line outside the bus depot on Tuesday.
Negotiations stalled two weeks ago over the issue of wages, and at this point, there is little hope of the two parties getting back to the table, said Bea Bruske, secretary treasurer for the union.
“We feel that we’ve moved as much as we can and without seeing any movement from the employer and their focus on maintaining the Bill 28 mandate, that makes it very unlikely,” she said.
Bill 28 was passed by the Manitoba government in 2017 and mandated that all new contracts for public employees impose two years of wage freezes, followed by increases of 0.75 per cent and 1 per cent in the third and fourth years.
Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench ruled the law violated the constitutional rights of workers, but the province has vowed to appeal.
Carter says the school division has offered as much as it can while remaining fiscally responsible.
“That’s a pretty big priority for our division and for our stakeholders, who watch what’s going on,” she said.
The school division had already prepared for fewer students to take the bus, due to new safety regulations introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Carter said. Parents have been asked to make alternative arrangements, where possible.
“That sort of mitigated the first day of school issue, because people were kind of expecting that they might not have a seat anyway,” she said.
‘They deserve to be treated fairly’
Bruske acknowledged the difficulty the timing of the strike has placed on parents. She pointed out that the drivers have been in negotiations since last October and were prepared to go on strike in April, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Drivers would much rather be working behind the steering wheel than walking the picket line, she said.
“At the same time, they deserve to be treated fairly and they deserve to have a fair deal, and they deserve to have a decent wage increase, rather than several years of zeros,” she said.
On Monday, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen wouldn’t comment on the strike, but he said the province wants to see as much money remain within the school system as possible, in order to help students.
The strike affects approximately 2,300 students, most of whom are inclusive education, or additional needs students, or enrolled in language programs, Carter said
Students who need wheelchair transportation aren’t affected, because those drivers are outside the union. About 50 students fit into that category.
WATCH | School bus drivers hit the picket line:
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