Ontario education workers announced Wednesday they will begin full strike action Monday.
The announcement comes on the heels of Education Minister Stephen Lecce saying he was available “24-7” to keep talks going.
“We have no choice but to invoke the next step in the legal process we follow for school board bargaining,” Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said.
“This morning CUPE and OSBCU gave the legal five-day notice that our school board members will commence full strike action on Monday.”
Tens of thousands of workers began a work-to-rule campaign last Monday as confusion mounted about when their union and the government would go back to the bargaining table.
“Despite CUPE’s best efforts we were not able to reach an agreement that secured services for Ontario students or delivered a fair deal for the dedicated education workers we represent,” Walton continued.
However, it was announced Wednesday evening that talks would resume on Friday.
Walton said school boards had begun to close programs, lay off workers and were paying parents to do the work of CUPE workers. She added, in some cases, school board are asking “students as young as 10 and 11 years old to supervise other students.” However, none of those claims have been confirmed by Global News.
CUPE represents 55,000 custodians clerical workers and early childhood educators.
WATCH: CUPE representatives outline aims of previous work-to-rule action
Custodians have stopped cleaning hallways and emptying garbage cans outside schools, clerical workers have stopped finding replacements for absent staff, and education workers have stopped working overtime.
Lecce responded to the announcement just after noon and reemphasized his drive to get a deal done as soon as possible.
When asked whether or not the government would table back-to-school legislation, Lecce would not give a definite answer. However, he said historically it’s better to come to a deal voluntarily.
WATCH: Ontario educations workers anticipate ‘stressful situation’ if full strike action taken
When drilled as to whether kids in full-day kindergarten or children with special needs will have to stay home Monday if a strike should happen, Lecce said it is his “hope and expectation” that the safety of children will never be compromised.
“I think the system overall, the ecosystem around our kids from the administration to the boards of education to the ministry of education to the workers, the EAs, as well as of course the teachers, I think we’re all going to have to put the kids first,” he said.
“I think CUPE will have to answer the consequences of that decision. I think, for me, my hope is that no child has service disruption. That they are in a safe environment and they are able to be to go to school on Monday.”
“That’s the goal for this week and that’s the goal for the coming days.”
WATCH: Lecce disappointed by acceleration of action on part of CUPE officials
NDP education critic Marit Stiles called on the on the government, school boards and union to return to the table to avoid a strike.
“Everybody wants to see our students … staying in classrooms,” she said. “At the end of the day we need to make sure our students are getting the supports they need. The government needs to back away from their harmful cuts to education.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner urged the province to reach a “fair contract” with the workers, who he said are some of the lowest paid employees in the education system.
“Like many parents, I am worried about the impact strike action could have on my daughter and students across Ontario,” he said. “The premier’s ill-considered cuts have led us here, and he must come out from undercover to show leadership on this dispute.”
Ontario school boards issue warnings to parents
School boards across Ontario have begun to send letters to parents asking them to prepare for the pending strike on Monday.
York Region District School Board and Peel District School Board sent out notices telling parents to begin to arrange alternate childcare for their children.
Both boards warned parents the strike may result in school closures.
Meanwhile, the Durham District School Board issued a letter warning parents they may experience longer-than-usual delays in being buzzed into schools as there will not be a staff member available at all times due to employee shortages.
Toronto District School Board said it “remains hopeful that a new contract can be negotiated” and they will keep parents updated regularly.
Waterloo Catholic District School Board told parents if the strike proceeds Monday, they will be closing schools.
“This morning we received notice that a full CUPE strike may commence on Monday October 7th, if an agreement is not reached this weekend. If the strike proceeds, this will mean CUPE members will not report to work. As CUPE represents 1100 of our school based staff, we would not be able to safely operate our schools,” a statement from the board read.
Both the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic school boards in Guelph said at this time, their schools will remain open.
—With files from The Canadian Press