Two representatives of the seven transportation planners who work for Tri-Board Student Transportation Services (Tri-Board) asked Limestone District School Board trustees last night (Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2023) to intervene on the planners’ behalf to avoid an imminent strike.
The transportation planners design and oversee school bus routes in the Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, Prince Edward, and Hastings counties of eastern Ontario. As members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1479, they are poised to legally strike on Monday, Apr. 3, 2023, if their proposal for a fair wage increase is not accepted.
Tri-Board is a transportation consortium that is jointly controlled by the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB), Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB), and Limestone District School Board (LDSB).
A fair labour market adjustment wage increase is the major outstanding issue, according to the union. The workers have already voted down a tentative agreement that included a lower wage offer from the employer.
At Wednesday’s meeting at the Limestone Board offices (220 Portsmouth Avenue in Kingston), Velma Storms and Colleen Lavergne spoke on behalf of their colleagues in transportation planning.
They told the assembly that their CUPE 1479 unit 3 has now been working without a contract since September 2022 and that, between them, Tri-Board’s transportation planners have a combined total of more than 90 years of experience. They also pointed out that they are responsible for 30,000 students transported on 623 buses travelling over 88 thousand kilometres daily to 135 schools.
“Since our collective agreement expired this past September, our negotiating committee has met with Tri-Board [administration] on several occasions, and they have failed to table a responsible offer [of a wage increase],” explained Storms.
In fact, according to a media release by CUPE, the Tri-Board managers filed for conciliation after only two days of bargaining last July. Three days of negotiations, with a conciliation officer appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Labour acting as an intermediary, took place in January and February of 2023. A fourth conciliation meeting between the two parties on March 17 did not result in an agreement.
“Our employer has informed us that there is no money in their mandate to accommodate this request,” Storms said. But she pointed out the “hypocrisy” of the fact that those same employers recently posted a new non-union position which would increase the overall operating budget, and the fact that Tri-Board had given an existing employee a 15 per cent wage increase “above and beyond what the recent job evaluation [suggested] and back-paid this position for two years.”
“We are the lowest-paid transportation planners in the province of Ontario. Currently our wages are 19 per cent below the average pay rate,” stated Storms.
“We are not asking for this amount. We’re asking for a one-time wage adjustment of 5.6 percent to bring us up nearer the next lowest wage level of our peers.”
“The amount breaks down to less than $10,000,” pointed out Lavergne. “Looking at the overall school board budget, is this minuscule amount that we are asking for worth the disruption a strike will cause in busing? Especially with the frequent requests for changes in day-to-day bus transportation?”
After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions from the trustees. Garrett Elliott, Trustee for Trillium and Lakeside Districts, asked, “Could you clarify what a transportation planner does on a day-to-day basis to help us better understand your expertise?”
“It involves so many different things,” explained Storms, who has over 30 years experience in her job. “Dealing with parents, bus companies, bus drivers, lost children, making sure students are in a safe spot where the stops are safe, making sure the bus companies are on time.”
She continued, “A lot of special education students have to be picked up door to door, which changes daily, so you’re constantly changing maps. Oh, and processing applications [for transportation]. Just for an example, I’ve got 670 applications sitting in my inbox for next year already.”
“And it’s it’s something we love to do,” she emphasized. “That’s why we’re here… We just think we’re not appreciated for what we do.”
As the delegation of transportation planners pointed out, the cost to settle this dispute and avoid a disruptive strike is a very small fraction of each of the three school boards’ budgets: about $6,500 per school board. The total is less than $20,000. Or, to put it another way, less than three one-thousandths of one percent of each board’s budget.
|1/3 of Wage Adjustment
|Percentage of Total Budget
|Hastings and Prince Edward DSB
|Algonquin and Lakeshore CDSB
Also on the agenda to speak at the meeting were members of CUPE Local 1480 — education workers like educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians, and clerical staff — a majority of whom have endorsed a letter to the Board of Trustees asking them to pay the Tri-Board workers a fair wage.
“Tri-Board transportation planners are the lowest-paid of similar transportation planners across the province, earning 19 per cent below the average,” said Liz James, President of CUPE Local 1479. “Trustees should use their power to direct Tri-Board to pay their workers a fair wage. It would cost them a tiny fraction of their budget.”
A representative of LDSB explained what happens next. As per Board Policy 13, there will be no further discussion nor decision until the next board meeting. Trustees now have an opportunity to gather more information to then be able to have a discussion (if they sit fit). Usually, the topic presented by a delegation is then placed on the agenda for discussion at the next regular board meeting, the board explained. At the next meeting, scheduled for April 26, the board may choose to receive the delegation for information, refer the matter to staff for followup, refer the matter to a committee, refer the matter to a future meeting, or, if appropriate, refer the matter to a private session (in-camera).
According to a CUPE spokesperson, Tri-Board employees and CUPE Locals 1479 and 1022, representing education support workers at ALCDSB and HPEDSB respectively, requested to speak at the meetings of those two school boards’ trustees this week, but were denied permission to make delegations.
The strike deadline is 12:01 a.m. Monday, Apr. 3. The employer and workers’ bargaining committee have not scheduled a negotiating date before then, but are working with a mediator appointed by the Ministry of Labour.
UPDATE: On Friday, Mar. 31, 2023, school transportation planners, who are members of CUPE Local 1479, reached a tentative agreement with Tri-Board Student Transportation Services averting a strike or lockout on Monday, April 3.