CUPE education workers, Ontario government reach tentative deal to avoid strike

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WATCH ABOVE: Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announces a tentative deal with CUPE workers, avoiding a Monday strike for Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation – Oct 6, 2019

The union representing thousands of education workers across Ontario has reached a deal with the provincial government to avoid a strike that was set to begin on Monday.

“I am pleased to confirm that an agreement has been reached between the Crown, our government, CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and the school board trustee associations that keep kids in class,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters Sunday evening.

“All parties bargained in good faith late into the night and over the weekend to reach a deal that is fair and that is reasonable. I am pleased that students will be back in the class on Monday.”

READ MORE: Parents rally in Toronto to call on Ford government to reverse cuts as CUPE strike deadline looms 

Lecce didn’t get into the specifics of the deal, but called it “fair and reasonable.” He said the deal represented “incremental success” as contract talks with the major teachers unions continue.

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Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, spoke with the media shortly after Lecce. She said she regretted the disruption the negotiations may have caused and that the process took longer than hoped, but said public support helped the parties reach a deal.

“Schools will be open tomorrow in Ontario,” Walton said, adding full details of the agreement won’t be released until members review it.

Click to play video 'CUPE announces tentative agreement with Ontario government to avert strike' CUPE announces tentative agreement with Ontario government to avert strike
CUPE announces tentative agreement with Ontario government to avert strike – Oct 6, 2019

She said the union was able to secure modest wage increases and maintain its existing sick leave plan — a sticking point for school trustees. Walton said the removal of changes to sick leave from the bargaining process helped talks progress.

“It allowed us to be laser focused on what we needed to achieve and so we were able to push back on that sick leave concession,” she said.

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“It was critical for us to provide that to our members and I am proud that we were able to achieve that. We were also able to achieve modest wage increases.

“The province met us where they needed to be in order to get a deal.”

The three-year deal still needs to be ratified by union members. Walton said a vote should be held by the end of the month.

Premier Doug Ford issued a brief statement after the tentative agreement was announced, saying the government “will continue to negotiate in good faith with all of our bargaining partners.”

“Throughout this process our goal has been to establish agreements that respect taxpayers, students and families, while also recognizing the important contributions of our front-line education workers,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Kingston parents frustrated at short notice of possible CUPE strike

“Our government worked tirelessly at the bargaining table to achieve this goal and as a result two million students will remain in the classroom where they belong.”

School boards across the province shared updates on social media to advise classes would continue as normal on Monday.

“We are pleased to inform you that all TDSB schools will be open to students and staff on Monday, October 7, 2019. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time,” the Toronto District School Board tweeted Sunday night.

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“The Minister of Education announced that a tentative agreement has been reached with CUPE. All schools will be open on Monday,” the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board wrote on Twitter.

Dozens of school boards intended to close Monday as CUPE and the Ontario government were stuck in contract negotiations. The contract for 55,000 education workers expired on Aug. 31 and the union began a work-to-rule campaign last week.

Members — including janitors, clerical staff and early childhood educators — stopped working overtime and performing a number of other duties, including cleaning hallways and emptying garbage cans outside schools.

CUPE gave formal strike notice that workers would hit the picket lines Monday, and dozens of school boards across Ontario said it would not be feasible for them to keep schools open as a result of the strike.

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— With files from The Canadian Press

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