Daycare workers take to the picket line in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

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With all the snow that has fallen in Nova Scotia, childcare workers, cooks, and cleaners picketting in Glace Bay snow have their work cut out for them.

The 15 daycare staff are members of Unifor Local 4600, which represents over 1,250 workers, including other childcare providers. They have been on strike since Tuesday. 

The last Town collective agreement expired in December 2013. After negotiations reached a standstill last summer, the town and the daycare workers went to conciliation last month but could not reach a deal. 

The main issue is wages. In the new contract proposed by the employer, workers are being offered no increase in wages. Town workers are currently making $12.44 an hour, which is about two dollars more than the $10.40 provincial minimum wage.

"The majority of these workers need an early childhood education diploma in order to work here," explained CUPE 4600 President Susan Gill. "So they all have some college-level education. It's kind of tough when they offer you that kind of wage."

"It has been very difficult for these members to be forced to withdraw their services," said Unifor Atlantic Regional Director Lana Payne, in a press release. "Sadly, this is a classic example of how undervalued and underpaid women are in so many professions. This is especially true of the childcare sector."

Speaking to the Cape Breton Post, Town Daycare Board Chairperson Sally MacLeod said that the daycare is running a $100,000 deficit largely due to a lack of provincial funding.

Town is a non-profit daycare. Families pay daycare fees but the facility also receives funding from the Department of Education. Despite rising operational costs, such as food prices, the provincial contributions have not increased significantly, which is why the employer says it cannot offer workers any wage increases. 

"I find it disheartening that funding for childhood education is a nation-wide problem," said Gill. "Obviously there is not enough money from the provincial government put into childcare funding. But I'm betwixt and between about why the daycare, which is publicly funded, runs an $100, 000 deficit."

The daycare currently cares for 84 children, some of whom have special needs.

"We understand the impact that the strike has on the community, with the daycare being closed and it being March Break," said Gill. "My members don't want to be on strike. They love what they do and they are very good at it, but they just want a fair wage."

The union is waiting to hear from the employer, but negotiations have not resumed. 

"They aren't looking for a five-dollar-an-hour increase, but to offer them zero per cent over three years? That's a tough pill for them to swallow," said Gill.

Gill says that the union is also putting pressure on province to increase childcare funding. The Nova Scotia Ministry of Education and Early Childhood Development did not respond to rabble.ca's request for an interview.

Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.

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