Ontario to Pre-Emptively Legislate Education Workers Staff Back to Work

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Ontario’s education minister intends to introduce legislation Monday that will avert a looming support staff strike and impose a contract on them, a proposition the union said it is prepared to fight.

Stephen Lecce’s announcement came hours after the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents about 55,000 education workers, announced that it was giving the required five days’ notice to start a full strike on Friday. They are in a legal strike position on Thursday.

“Because CUPE refuses to withdraw their intent to strike, in order to avoid shutting down classes we will have no other choice but to introduce legislation tomorrow, which will ensure that students remain in-class to catch up on their learning,” Lecce said in a statement late Sunday.

The government had been offering raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but Lecce said the new deal would give 2.5-per-cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent for all others.

CUPE has been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent as well as overtime at twice the regular pay rate, 30 minutes of paid prep time per day for educational assistants and ECEs, an increase in benefits and professional development for all workers.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, said the government’s move is not just an attack on the lowest-paid education workers, but on labour in general.

“This is concerning not just for our teacher allies, but I think for every single worker in this province,” Walton said. “This is a government that is not working for workers and it’s clear.”

Walton said CUPE will be “looking at every avenue to fight back,” and noted there were similar actions taken by the former Liberal government.

Education unions won a court challenge several years ago against the Liberal government over legislation known as Bill 115, which froze some of their wages and limited their ability to strike.

The judge ruled that the government “substantially interfered with meaningful collective bargaining” and Ontario was left having to pay more than $100 million in remedies to the unions.

At least three Ontario school boards have said they would shut down schools if support staff fully withdraw their services.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board have all said that they would not be able to operate safely if CUPE members walk off the job.

The Toronto District School Board told parents that it was assessing the impact of a possible CUPE strike, but that maintaining a normal routine would be “very difficult” and families should be “prepared for all possibilities.”

In 2019, CUPE and the government reached a last-minute deal the day before workers had been set to go on a full strike.

Mediated talks between the province and union broke down earlier this month.

Other than the proposal on wages, the government’s offer seeks to keep all other areas the same as the previous deal except for a cut to sick leave pay.

The province wants to institute what it’s calling a five-day “waiting period” for short-term disability, during which a worker would receive 25 per cent of their normal pay and 90 per cent for the rest of the 120 days.

The Canadian Press

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