Ford government dodges CUPE strike but more education labour woes ahead

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Ford government dodges CUPE strike but more education labour woes ahead
WATCH ABOVE: After narrowly averting a massive strike by 55,000 educational support workers, Premier Doug Ford’s government will now turn full attention to teacher negotiations. Travis Dhanraj reports – Oct 7, 2019

After narrowly averting a massive strike by 55,000 educational support workers, Premier Doug Ford’s government will now turn full attention to teacher negotiations.

Talks between the province and several unions are ongoing.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), l’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) represent over 160,000 teachers currently without a deal.

ETFO is currently in the process of gauging whether or not an appetite exists for job action. The union is taking strike votes with members across the province. If a majority approves, 78,000 teachers, occasional teachers and other education professionals could be in a legal potential strike position as early as November.

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Sam Hammond, ETFO’s president told Global News Monday, “To prepare for all possible outcomes in our bargaining, ETFO is currently holding a central or province-wide strike vote. ETFO is asking every member to strengthen our hand at the central bargaining table by voting yes because if we are serious about our priorities, now is the time to show it.”

Hammond then added, the teachers’ unions have public support in their negotiations.

“The growing mobilizations of parents and the supportive public response to CUPE’s negotiations are a real reflection that the people of Ontario are frustrated by the Conservative’s education cuts and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect and improve learning and working conditions in our schools,” he said.

“As elementary teachers and educational professionals, ETFO remains united in our aim to defend Ontario’s world-class public education system and services for students in our negotiations.”

Laura Walton, who headed up CUPE talks with the province, said after their deal was brokered Sunday that the union stands in solidarity with ETFO and other labour groups.

“We got your back just like you had ours,” she said.

Walton also indicated CUPE made few concessions in bargaining.

“The province met us where they needed to be in order to get a deal, we didn’t give up anything.”

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The deal still needs to be ratified by members, a process which could take a month. However Walton’s message to Education Minister Stephen Lecce was clear Sunday.

“Thanks for opening the piggybank and allowing us to get the services that we needed for our students, they’ll thank you too.”

Lecce responded to Walton’s statement Monday.

“I think what we have done is we’ve opened up classrooms in Ontario and I think that’s the focus and I think we’ve done so within our mandate to be fair,” he said on Global News Morning. “I think that all parties in the province of Ontario could leave this negotiation with a sense of incremental achievement on their priorities.“

Sources with knowledge of the negations told Global News the government essentially “caved to political pressure.”

The deal happened amid a federal election where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been seen as distancing himself from Ford due to the premier’s low approval ratings.

Click to play video: 'Education Minister Stephen Lecce on CUPE negotiations'
Education Minister Stephen Lecce on CUPE negotiations

Sarbjit Kaur, a political strategist with KPW communications, said the deal with CUPE could end up weakening the government’s position with other unions.

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“The Ford government did the politically expedient thing to help Andrew Scheer who is struggling in Ontario,” she said. “It didn’t deliver for its base (save money for the taxpayer) as promised when elected, and parents can expect more strife in the future as the pressure of a federal election will be off.”

All of the unions are currently in ‘issues bargaining’ with the government and trustees associations right now. During this process, major contract points such as compensation, benefits and sick leave are discussed before finer details are dealt with.

Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, said Monday that unlike ETFO, “We have no arbitrary deadlines set for such things as strike votes. That will be entirely dependent on the progress we’re making at the bargaining table.”

Bischof said as negotiations ramp up, Ontarians should be paying attention.

“At stake right now, is the future of Ontario’s high quality education system and the economy into which our students will graduate.”

Bischof also raised concerns about the direction the province is moving, saying for OSSTF there are hard lines.

“The government has signaled some recognition of the value of support staff and we expect the same approach at the OSSTF support staff table,” he said. “We cannot accept any different approach when it comes to the 10,000 teaching positions the government intends to slash.

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“They must be reinstated so students get the course options and supports they deserve, within reasonable-sized classes. Nor should Ontario’s students be guinea pigs for a rash e-learning experiment that will jeopardize their chances at school success.”

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Sunday that Ford’s policies are hurting students.

“Now more than ever, Ontarians recognize the importance of our education system and the vital role that our education workers play. As long as the deep Conservative cuts continue we can expect more chaos in our classrooms,” she said.

Right now, no formal deadline has been set for an end to talks with the four unions.

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