The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has filed another strike notice, leaving education workers poised to walk off the job again in Ontario, according to both the province’s minister of education and the union.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Stephen Lecce said since talks resumed a few days ago, the province has put forward multiple offers that would add “hundreds of millions of dollars across the sector, especially for lower income workers,” but CUPE has thus far rejected them.
“I think it is entirely unfair to children. It’s unnecessary,” Lecce said, speaking with reporters at Queen’s Park. “We should be having these discussions at the table, to get a deal both for members and for our kids. And I think we are all disappointed that this is the path the union has taken.
“But this government will stay resolved and stay focused at the table to get a deal, especially knowing that we’ve offered a better option with more money — a significant increase, hundreds of millions of dollars more for lower-paid workers.”
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, CUPE said education workers have given notice of a potential province-wide strike — which could start in five days time.
WATCH | What each side is saying about possible strike action:
The statement says CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) central bargaining committee was able to reach a middle ground with the province on wages, but alleges the government “refused to invest in the services that students need and parents expect, precipitating this escalation.”
In the statement, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the union is focused on both improving jobs for education workers and improving services for students.
Province offered 3.59% raise, union says
At a news conference later Wednesday, Walton told reporters the province has offered workers a $1/hr raise for each year of a collective agreement, which would amount to a 3.59 per cent raise.
“Let me be clear, that’s a win for workers. But it’s not enough,” she said. The sticking point in talks, Walton said, is that the province is refusing to put money into new student services.
CUPE said it is still looking for guarantees of higher staffing levels for educational assistants, librarians, custodians and secretaries, and an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom and not just classes that have at least 15 students.
“A wage increase doesn’t help if you’re going to lose your job,” Walton said. “A wage increase isn’t going to help when you have school boards that are finding ways to get rid of people. A wage increase isn’t going to help if your hours get cut.”
The province’s latest offer, CUPE said, would provide a wage increase across the board, and not just for the lowest paid workers in the sector. Previous offers from the government included higher raises for workers earning less than approximately $40,000, but CUPE was unhappy with two-tiered increases.
Lecce said the latest proposed wage agreement would be $335 million over four years and the province has not asked for any concessions in return.
“We have five days before this strike notice period expires. That is five days for this government to recognize the opportunity that they have to make a difference in the lives of two million Ontario students,” Walton told reporters. “Five days — and then education workers, parents and every ally who cares about young people and public education in this province will make their voices heard once more.
“Come forward with a deal that truly helps students catch up.”
Controversial legislation repealed
The province previously passed legislation dubbed Bill 28 on Nov. 3 in a bid to prevent 55,000 CUPE workers from striking.
But thousands of workers, including education assistants, librarians and custodians, walked off the job earlier this month anyway, shutting many schools across the province to in-person learning for two days.
Last week, Premier Doug Ford offered to withdraw the legislation if CUPE members returned to work, which they did.
The law was then repealed on Monday.
When pressed by reporters Wednesday on whether there is any back-to-work legislation again in the works, Lecce repeated that the province will stay at the bargaining table.
The education minister said the mediator for discussions has asked both sides to ensure discretion, so he could not offer many details — but he said the province’s latest offer included wage increases for all workers, with the biggest increases set for the union’s lowest-paid members.
Mark Hancock, national president of CUPE, said at Wednesday’s press conference that none of the union’s members really want to be on strike.
“Going on strike is always our last resort, and it’s never something that we take lightly,” he said. “Our members would much rather be in schools working and helping kids succeed in their classes than walking a picket line.”
TDSB to close schools if strike occurs
The Toronto District School Board says it will close its schools for learning in person on Monday if the Canadian Union of Public Employees goes on strike.
In a labour update on Wednesday, addressed to parents, guardians, caregivers and students, the TDSB said it hopes that the union and the Ontario government can reach an agreement before Monday, but it will have to shut schools for safety reasons if the education workers walk off the job.
“Student supervision and safety are our top priorities and without the important services of nearly 15,000 CUPE employees, we cannot guarantee that our learning environments will remain safe and clean for all students,” the TDSB said in the update.