Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 23, 2022 5:14 AM EDT
Ontario education workers, including librarians, custodians and administrative staff, are set to begin voting today on whether to strike — and their union is recommending they vote yes.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has called Ontario’s first contract offer it released offensive.
The government has offered pay rises of two per cent a year for workers earning less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all other workers, while CUPE is looking for annual increases of 11.7 per cent.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has criticized CUPE for planning strike ballots since before the first offer was even made.
The province’s five major education unions are all in the process of negotiating new contracts with the government.
CUPE’s 55,000 education workers will vote between today and October 2 on whether to strike.
Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the lack of progress over the past two days of negotiations “confirmed” why the strike vote is necessary.
“Starting today, 55,000 front-line education workers will have a chance to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate to get the Ford government and school boards to take us seriously,” she said.
The government has said it wants to tackle the bigger issues at a later stage, such as pay, job security, sick leave and benefits, Walton said. But even attempts at discussions on simpler issues — such as bereavement leave and the creation of a replacement pool of workers to fill in when others are gone — have not been fruitful, she said.
Walton has said in the past that holding a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean workers will withdraw services, but said in an interview this week that what people should be concerned about is the state of schools right now. She said there are not enough teaching assistants to provide adequate support and not enough custodians to clean schools regularly.
“Our goal is that we will continue to fight for the services that our students need, and we will continue to fight to make sure that the staff can afford to provide those services to the students,” she said .
“Right now we see a government that just continues to respect the workers.”
Lecce said in a statement that education unions are clearly “charging forward” against a strike.
“It has never been more clear that CUPE will strike if its demand for a nearly 50 percent increase in compensation is not delivered,” he wrote, referring to what the minister says would be total pay and various other compensation-related proposals.
“Instead of continuing their march towards strike action and disruption, all unions should promise parents that they will stay at the table and keep children in classrooms. Education union strikes every three years harm children and their working parents by repeatedly setting them back .”
The government has noted that CUPE is also asking for five extra paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of paid preparation time each day and increased overtime pay from a multiplier of 1.5 to 2.
Walton has said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker earning $39,000.
CUPE and other unions have said they are pushing for increases both to compensate for their last contracts being subject to a legislative cap of one per cent a year – known as Bill 124 – and to counter inflation, which is running just under seven per cent .
CUPE has more negotiating dates with the government planned for October, but no more before the strike vote ends.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.