The union representing some 55,000 education workers in Ontario has issued another strike notice, saying its members will walk off the job on Monday if a deal is not struck with the provincial government.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents custodians, educational assistants, administrative staff in schools, librarians and bus drivers, said Wednesday that talks had once again broken down.
Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said if the two sides cannot come to a deal, CUPE members will enact a “full strike” beginning Monday.
Here’s a closer look at what’s going on:
Why did the union file another five-day strike notice?
CUPE said it had reached a middle ground with the government on wages, but claims the government has refused to “invest in the services that students need and parents expect.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Walton said the government has offered a flat rate $1 raise, per hour, per year.
She said this works out to approximately $1,633 per year, equivalent to a 3.59 per cent raise for CUPE members.
Walton said this is a “win,” but added that it’s “not enough.”
She said the union is still pushing to secure guarantees for additional services for students and families.
These services include enough educational assistants for students; an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom; enough library workers, custodians, maintenance workers and tradespeople; and adequate staffing of secretaries and school lunchroom supervisors.
“This has never been just about money,” Walton said. “This is what the premier and the minister want you to believe — that this is about money in our hands. This has always been about services.”
What has the government said?
In a statement Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is “disappointed that only a few short days after talks restarted, CUPE has filed notice to once again shut down classrooms.”
Lecce said that since talks resumed, the government has put forward “multiple improved offers” to CUPE members, that he said “would have added hundreds of millions of dollars across the sector, especially for lower income workers.”
“CUPE has rejected all of these offers,” he said in the statement. “We are at the table ready to land a fair deal that invests more in lower income workers and keeps kids in class.”
What happened to Bill 28?
The Ontario government — in a bid to block the union’s first strike action — tabled and passed a piece of back-to-work legislation, known as Bill 28, which used the controversial notwithstanding clause in order to guard against constitutional challenges.
The legislation included fines of up to $4,000 per employee per day for those found guilty of violating the prohibition on strikes and up to $500,000 a day for the union.
Despite the legislation, CUPE members walked off the job for two days — Nov. 4 and Nov. 7.
In a bid to end the labour action and reopen schools, Premier Doug Ford said his government would repeal the legislation.
Bill 28 was officially repealed by the legislature on Monday.
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What does this mean for schools?
Walton said members will walk off the job for a “full strike” on Monday if the two sides cannot reach a deal.
Earlier this month CUPE members and members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union walked off the job. As a result, several school boards across the province were forced to close their doors to students.
In a tweet Wednesday, the Toronto District School Board said it is “currently finalizing information” adding that it will “share updates with families as soon as possible.”
In a letter to families Wednesday, the Toronto Catholic District School Board said if CUPE members withdraw their services, the board’s schools will be closed for in-person learning starting on Monday.
“Students will have access to remote synchronous learning during this time,” the letter read.
In a letter to families Wednesday, the York Region District School Board said 4,000 of its staff are represented by CUPE.
“Should the strike action occur, schools will be closed to students on Monday, November 21,” the letter read.
The board said families should “make alternate arrangements” for their children prior to the strike.
The board said its full day childcare programs at schools are “anticipated to operate normally,” but will close at 4:30 p.m.
“Before and after school care programs will be closed,” the letter read.
The Peel District School Board (PDSB) said it is “hopeful that a resolution can be reached before next week.”
“However, should there be a strike, PDSB students will participate in synchronous remote learning on Monday, November 21, 2022,” a post on the board’s website read.
Both sides have said they will continue talks in a bid to reach a deal before Monday.
“We’re here, we’re dedicated to get this deal done,” Walton told reporters. “But we’ve said all the way along, a deal would be done when there was a wage that met with what the workers needed and provided the services that students and families deserve.”
In a statement Thursday, CUPE said both parties had agreed to set a deadline of 5 p.m., on Sunday evening “so we can provide parents and caregivers as much notice as possible.”
— with a file from The Canadian Press