With talks stalled and education workers edging closer to strike action, hundreds of unionized staff rallied outside the Toronto Congress Centre on Saturday where senior Progressive Conservative Party figures were set to meet.
The rally comes as the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the PC government stand at an impasse on salary negotiations; education workers will be in a legal strike position at the beginning of November.
“I don’t get paid much more than when I started 18 years ago,” Joan Marek, an educational assistant in Oakville, told Global News. “I can’t afford to think about retiring yet.”
Talks have broken down between the province and education workers.
CUPE, which represents 55,000 clerical workers, custodians, early childhood educators and librarians, asked the government for an 11 per cent increase in wages, citing the high cost of living and historically low pay.
The Ministry of Education countered with a two per cent increase for employees earning less than $40,000 a year, and a 1.25 per cent increase for union members who make more than $40,000.
CUPE workers will be in a legal strike position by Nov. 3, with mediated talks scheduled to begin again on Nov. 1.
“We came to them several times in the past few days and said, ‘Let’s talk about this … their answer was no,” Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said.
However, the Ministry of Education said in a statement that union action could harm students and said CUPE’s proposal would cost the taxpayer $19 billion.
“This education union is yet again reminding us all that they will impose greater hardship on children, following historic learning loss and mental health adversity,” the statement said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to attend the Toronto Congress Centre PC Party event on Saturday evening.
— with files from Global News’ Colin D’Mello