TORONTO — More than 50,000 education workers in Ontario are set to go on strike Monday – two weeks after their last walkout ended – saying that while they’ve reached an agreement with the government on wages, they still want certain staffing levels to be guaranteed.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees announced Wednesday that it filed a five-day strike notice, saying that after two full days of bargaining, talks with the province have broken down once more.
Both sides have agreed to a $1-per-hour raise each year, or about 3.59 per cent annually, CUPE said, and not just for the lowest-paid workers. Previous offers from the government included higher raises for workers earning less than approximately $40,000, but CUPE was unhappy with two-tiered increases.
Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the agreement on wages was “a win,” though still “not enough.”
“This was never just about wages,” Walton said at a press conference.
“A wage increase doesn’t help if you’re going to lose your job. A wage increase isn’t going to help when you have school boards that are finding ways to get rid of people. A wage increase isn’t going to help if your hours get cut.”
CUPE said it is still looking for guarantees of higher staffing levels for educational assistants, librarians, custodians and secretaries, and an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom and not just classes that have more than 16 students.
Walton said those staffing requests would cost $100 million.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the wage agreement would be $335 million over four years and the province has not asked for any concessions in return.
The government put forward multiple improved offers and repealed previous legislation that imposed a contract on the workers, Lecce said.
“It’s an unfair strike on so many children they’re contemplating, especially given that the government significantly increased wages for lowest-paid workers and revoked the bill,” Lecce said. “We did everything we said we would.”
Toronto’s public and Catholic school boards said Wednesday that in the event of a full strike, all their schools would close to in-person learning and classes would move online. School boards in York and Peel regions made similar announcements.
CUPE’s education workers walked off the job for two days earlier this month in response to the government enacting a law that imposed contracts on them, banned them from striking, and used the notwithstanding clause to allow the override of certain charter rights.
Hundreds of schools were closed to in-person learning for two days as a result of the walkout.
Premier Doug Ford then offered last week to withdraw the legislation if CUPE members returned to work, which they did, and bargaining resumed.
In 2019, CUPE and the government reached a last-minute deal the day before workers had been set to go on a full strike.
There are now five days to reach a deal or CUPE will strike, the union said.
“There’s always going to be pressure tactics when you’re negotiating,” Walton said. “Obviously, there’s not enough right now, or else it would be done. This could have been settled last night, we could have been standing in this room today announcing that there was a deal we’re going to be taking to our members.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2022.
Liam Casey and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press