CUPE school workers begin to vote on contract offer

As CUPE school support staff began voting on a tentative contract deal, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he’s “grateful” the sides were able to get an agreement and avoid disruption in schools.

Lecce said his message to the 55,000 custodians, educational assistants, early childhood educators and other school workers would be a “message of gratitude,” after making an unrelated announcement at Centennial College’s Ashtonbee campus in Scarborough on Thursday

“I want to thank them for what they do to support our kids,” he said. “Recognizing that we’ve come to a fair agreement, I can respect the ratification process but reaffirm how important it is that we came together to keep kids in school.”

Lecce added that he’s “just grateful that we came together interests of our kids and put them first, and now we have a tentative agreement.”

The Ontario government and the school boards’ bargaining unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees announced they’d reached a contract deal last Sunday, after a full weekend of last-ditch talks and under the looming threat of a strike.

The contract offer provides a $1 per hour raise per year, for an average pay increase of 15.2 per cent over four years.

CUPE school staff walked off the job for two days earlier this month, but returned to bargaining when the province promised to rescind controversial legislation that banned a strike and imposed a contract on them using the Charter of Rights’ “notwithstanding clause.”

The head of the Ontario School Boards Council of Unions bargaining unit has said the deal “falls short” because the government was unwilling to provide funding for any additional staff. However, CUPE’s national leader said “no deal contains all we seek, but we are confident the bargaining committee secured all that could be secured.”

Voting started Thursday and wraps up Dec. 5, with results to be released Dec. 6.

Neither CUPE nor the Ontario School Boards Council of Unions wished to comment during the ratification process.

New Democrat MPP Chandra Pasma, her party’s education critic, said it’s now up to CUPE workers to “decide whether this is enough of a wage increase and enough of an investment to keep them able to do the job that they love and want to do. ”

Pasma (Ottawa West-Nepean) said “as the Official Opposition, we will continue to press the government on making the necessary investments in education to make sure our kids get the support they need every day.”

Asked Thursday about ongoing contract talks with teachers, Lecce said the government looks forward “to continue to negotiate in good faith with our teacher unions,” and described discussions so far as “productive.”

“I think we can be assured that the government will continue to make the case that kids must be in school, and they need to benefit from the full spectrum of supports that happened in school system,” he said.

Lecce was at Centennial College with Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy to announce a $4.8-million fund for the dual credit program, which allows students to earn post-secondary credits or start apprenticeship training while they are still in high school.

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