Ontario education workers issue 5-day strike notice before negotiations resume

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The union representing about 55,000 Ontario education workers has given five days’ notice of a potential provincewide strike.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents staff including educational assistants, custodians and early childhood educators, says a strike could start as soon as Friday.

A union spokesperson says education workers will fully withdraw their services if a deal isn’t reached with the provincial government.

Two Ontario school boards have said they will close schools if education workers go on a full strike.

Negotiations between the union and the province are scheduled to resume on Tuesday after sessions with a mediator last week broke down with both sides still far apart on wages.

Union seeking 11.7 per cent yearly wage increase

CUPE is looking for annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent and the government in response has offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others.

Education workers have made several other proposals, including overtime at two times the regular pay rate, 30 minutes of paid prep time per day for educational assistants and ECEs, and an increase in benefits and professional development for all workers.

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 government 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.

In a statement, education minister Stephen Lecce said the government is “not giving up on a deal that protects in-person learning for kids.”

“We are at the table with a fair offer that includes a pay raise and maintains the most generous pension and benefit package, but most importantly — it keeps kids in class,” Lecce said in his statement. “If CUPE moves ahead with strike action and disruption, we will act to keep students in class so they can continue to catch up.”

“No one wants to strike, least of all the lowest-paid education workers who can barely pay our bills,” Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, said in a statement Sunday. “Still, we need a significant wage increase and we deserve it.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has accused CUPE of “trying to disrupt in-class learning by refusing to compromise” on what he calls unreasonable demands.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board said last week that a “full withdrawal of service” by CUPE would mean they would not be able to ensure safe conditions for students and staff.

The two school boards combined operate over 100 schools attended by roughly 50,000 students in Peterborough, Bowmanville and the surrounding area.

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



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