Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is accusing an education workers’ union of preparing for a strike in September even as the two sides continue to negotiate a multi-year contract.
The Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, which represents 55,000 custodians, early childhood educators, education assistants and library workers, recently sent a memo to members notifying them of a meeting on Aug. 22 to discuss a potential strike vote.
Laura Walton, who represents the union at the bargaining table, told Global News the meeting is to discuss preparations for a potential strike but is “not a strike vote.”
“It is discussing how to get ready, what do we need to do, how people can be prepared,” Walton said. “The best way to avoid a strike is to be prepared for one.”
The union presented the government with its first offer, including wage increases of $3.25 per hour per year for the length of the contract.
Government sources told Global News it would represent a 53 per cent increase in pay over the course of three years — which the union is dismissing.
A source in the Ministry of Education said the government is planning to present its counter-offer on Monday and expressed alarm that the union has begun discussions about a potential strike.
“They’re already organizing to strike before they even hear from us,” the source said, speaking on background.
Walton insisted, however, the union is communicating vital information with its members and said a possible strike vote isn’t always a signal of intent.
“Unions will often take strike votes to show the amount of support that workers have for the negotiations,” Walton said. “It is not unusual to take strike votes.”
According to the province’s own laws governing collective bargaining, in order for a strike to occur, unions and the employer have to meet certain thresholds.
Once the contract expires and negotiations break down, both sides would be required to meet with a Ministry of Labour conciliation officer and receive a “no-board” report before a union is legally allowed to strike 17 days later.
Unions are also legally required to hold a strike vote and can only stage a walkout if a majority of members vote in favour of job action.