Countdown Begins to Job Action in Ontario Schools

Mark this coming Monday on your calendar because it might be the last day for a while that you’ll know labour peace at your neighbourhood public school. September 30 will be the day that members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees will be in a strike position, and now everyone’s waiting to see what happens.

Global News is reporting that talks between the CUPE unions representing custodians, clerical workers, and early childhood educators and the Ministry of Education broke down during the weekend. “It’s time for the government and trustees’ association to realize we’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting, and we just can’t cut any further,” said Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

Last week, CUPE and the Ontario School Board Council Union announced that 93 per cent of their membership – representing 55,000 workers in 68 locals – voted in favour of striking. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid a labour disruption, but the strike vote results announced today are a confirmation that CUPE members are ready to stand up for students, services and workers,” read a CUPE press release.

The union will be in a legal strike position on September 30, but striking may not be the first move. Union members could go first to “work-to-rule” action, which would involve no overtime work, or taking on duties in addition to those outlined in their job description.

“Our plan for job action is about standing up for students and protecting the services that CUPE education workers deliver across the province,” said Walton in a press release last week. “If it takes job action to defend high-quality, well-supported, and well-rounded public education, then CUPE education workers are ready.”

“I’ve talked to students who can’t get into classes they need. I’ve met with teachers and students who are experiencing elevated levels of violence in the classroom and a lack of support services for children with special needs,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in his own media statement today.

“Although the Premier campaigned as if he would simply trim the fat, his cuts are digging into the bone, which is a direct threat to the quality of education in Ontario,” he added.

The Minister of Education is still urging caution for the union, and he’s urging them to keep bargaining.

“Our government remains focused on keeping kids in the classroom and delivering a deal that gives students and parents predictability and certainty. This will not change,” said Stephen Lecce in a media statement.

“I urge CUPE and the employers to come back to the table and direct their efforts toward reaching a deal as quickly possible,” he added. “Our government remains available at any time to restart talks with CUPE and keep students in school. Kids and parents deserve no less.”

Schreiner said that the government’s even-handed tone does nothing to address the core issues that the teachers are fighting against. “Changing the tone does not change the policy of increased class sizes and cuts to education. Premier Ford and Minister Lecce need a new approach that puts our kids first,” he said.

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