Ontario education workers overwhelmingly vote to strike

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Ontario education workers such as custodians, early childhood educators and school administration staff have voted 96.5 percent in favor of a strike. Canadian Union of Public Employees announced Monday.

Laura Waltonthe president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the negotiating team can now go back to the table with a clear indication of the level of support members have for CUPE’s proposal.

“(The message is that) education cuts are not acceptable, that more front-line education staff are urgently needed for students to succeed, and it’s time for a meaningful pay rise for us, the lowest-paid education workers who earn on average $39,000 a year,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

“Nobody wants to go on strike, especially the lowest paid education workers in Ontario, but education workers have been very clear that if this government won’t budge, we’re willing to go on strike for a contract that’s good for students, for families and for workers.”

More than 80 percent of its 55,000 education workers voted over 10 days, CUPE said.

The union has its next negotiation dates scheduled with the government on Thursday, Friday and October 17 and 18.

Before a strike could happen, the union would have to ask the conciliator to issue a “no board” report, meaning an agreement cannot be reached. Once this report is issued, the union will be in a legal strike position 17 days later and must also give five days notice of any job action.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the results were not surprising given education unions’ history of voting for strikes, but he was nonetheless “disappointed”.

“As CUPE moves forward against a strike that is harming children and disrupting families – leaving behind a fair offer that also protects the most generous benefits and pensions in the country – we will continue to remain at the table to ensure that children are in class without interruption until June,” he said in a written statement.

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.

Walton has said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker.

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.

Ontario’s opposition parties laid the blame for the looming possible strike at the feet of the government, which they say is refusing to ensure proper service in schools.

“This Conservative government has dragged our children to the brink of more school disruption,” NDP education critic Chandra Pasma said in a statement.

“Premier Doug Ford and Minister Stephen Lecce have used our children’s school years as a bargaining chip to bully the lowest paid education workers.”

All five major education unions are in the middle of negotiations with the government after their contracts expired on 31 August.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 3, 2022.

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