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Parents packed the parking lot near École Lansdowne School to drop off their kids for the first day.

Brent Johnson is a father to two boys, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old.

He was expecting his two sons to take the school bus on the first day of school – but that wasn’t the case.

“Well there’s a bus strike so we drove, and I’ll be leaving work early to come pick them up and work the rest of the day from home,” said Johnson.

Tuesday, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832 (UFCW), representing over 90 bus drivers in the Winnipeg School Division, announced drivers would be going on strike after months of failed negotiations with the Winnipeg School Division.

“It’s a big inconvenience, it’s disappointing to me that the school division has let this fester for 6 months,” said Johnson.

The union said the main issue with negotiations is Bill-28 which was passed in 2017 by the PC Government, but never proclaimed into law.

The bill called for a two year wage freeze for public sector workers – followed by a 0.75% increase in the third year, and a 1% increase in the fourth year.

A Manitoba judge ruled against the bill in June 2020, and the Manitoba Government is appealing the decision.

UFCW’s Secretary Treasurer, Bea Burke said drivers weren’t left with many options but to go on strike.

“If we consistently come back and ask you to reconsider your position, and we come back with solutions, and the employer chooses to come back with nothing, we have nothing further that we can bargain, and that’s the state that we’re finding ourselves in at this time,” said Burke.

Senior Information Officer for The Winnipeg School Division, Radean Carter said it’s willing to negotiate, but not on wages.

“Winnipeg School Division has offered as much as it can actually afford to offer,” said Carter. “We have to be, understandably, fiscally responsible at any time, but especially right now with a lot of extra expenses.”

The division’s added before and after school programs for parents who need extra time to drop off and pick up their kids.

They’re also offering virtual learning to students who have no way of getting to school.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen wouldn’t comment on Bill-28, but applauded the work of the division in preparing for the strike.

“They did a really good job of putting in contingency plans. They’re having their schools open a little earlier, and close a little bit later,” said Goertzen.

Helpful for parents like Johnson, but he said it shouldn’t have come to this.

“They had lots of time to deal with this. I know there’s lots of extra work with the pandemic and everything going on, but this should have been a top priority, and clearly, it’s not,” said Johnson.