Negotiations between Ontario and education workers sped up after union threatened to strike


The Ontario government and education workers are set to return to the bargaining table on Sunday afternoon as pressure mounts for the two sides to reach an agreement that would prevent a province-wide strike in here the end of the week.

Negotiations were due to resume on Tuesday, but were brought forward after the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) gave the required five-day notice for pressure action.

The move positions 55,000 workers — including teacher aides, custodians and early childhood educators — to go into a full strike as early as Friday.

Several Ontario school boards have said they will close schools if support staff withdraw their services altogether.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board have all said they cannot operate safely if CUPE members stop working.

Deadlock on wages

High-profile talks between the province and the union broke down earlier this month, with the two sides still far apart on wages.

The gap persisted ahead of Sunday’s session as the clock ticked towards a potential strike.

“Nobody wants to strike, let alone the lowest-paid education workers who can barely pay our bills,” Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said Sunday.

“Nevertheless, we need a significant pay rise and we deserve it.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he hoped CUPE would agree to demands he called unreasonable, but said the government would do what it took to keep students in school .

“We’re at the table with a fair offer that includes a raise and maintains the most generous pension and benefits plan, but most importantly – it keeps kids in class,” Lecce said in a statement. press Sunday.

“If CUPE goes ahead with strikes and disruptions, we will act to keep students in class so they can continue to catch up.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Ontario government “will act to keep students in the classroom” after the union served five days’ strike notice. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

CUPE is asking for annual wage increases of 11.7% and the government has offered in response increases of 2% per year for workers earning less than $40,000 and 1.25% for everyone else.

Education workers made several other proposals, including overtime at twice the normal rate of pay, 30 minutes of paid prep time per day for education assistants and ECEs, and increased benefits and professional development for all workers.

Apart from the pay proposal, the government’s offer aims to keep all other areas the same as in the previous deal, except for a reduction in sick leave pay.

The government wants to institute what it calls a five-day “waiting period” for short-term disability during which a worker would receive 25% of their normal salary and 90% for the remainder of the 120 days.

Toronto Catholic schools among boards to close

The Toronto Catholic District School Board sent a letter Sunday telling parents that its 195 schools, which serve more than 90,000 students, will close if CUPE launches an all-out strike.

The TCDSB said it was “to ensure the health, well-being and safety of our students and staff”.

“We are working with our childcare providers on a contingency plan and will share more information shortly,” the letter reads.

“Parents of school-aged children are encouraged to make alternate arrangements for their families.”

The council said that with schools closed, all permits, evening and Saturday classes, special events and excursions would be canceled for the duration of the strike.

The Halton District School Board (HDSB) said on Sunday that its elementary students would alternate days between in-person and remote learning in the event of an all-out strike, while secondary schools would remain open five days a week, including grades 7-12 schools in Aldershot, Burlington Central and Acton District.

Elementary students with “significant” special needs would continue to attend school every day, the HDSB said.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board together operate over 100 schools attended by approximately 50,000 students in Peterborough, Bowmanville and surrounding areas.

Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic said students would switch to remote learning at home, while Kawartha Pine Ridge said it would share details of plans if they receive notice from CUPE about an ongoing strike .

CUPE members returned a 96.5% strike mandate earlier this month.

In 2019, CUPE and the government reached a last-minute deal the day before workers were due to go on an all-out strike.


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