Ontario’s school support staff to hold strike vote

Some 55,000 school support staff will be taking a strike vote starting Friday — a vote that comes on the heels of two days of negotiations with the province that their union leadership is called frustrating.

Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the vote will give the bargaining team “a strike mandate to make the Ford government and school board trustees take us seriously … The status quo is not acceptable. Tiny improvements won’t pay the bills and won’t keep workers in schools or recruit new ones.”

The strike vote continues through Oct. 2, and results should be available Oct. 3. CUPE represents custodians, educational assistants, office staff and early childhood educators in many boards across the province.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said he believes CUPE is setting the stage for labor disruption, but the union says this is all part of the bargaining process.

Lecce, in a statement to the Star, said “we will continue to fight to keep students in class without interruption right through to June. That is clearly not the position of education unions, who are charging ahead towards a strike that hurts kids and disrupts families.”

All education unions, he added, “should promise parents that they will stay at the table and keep kids in classrooms. Strikes by education unions every three years hurt kids and their working parents by repeatedly setting them back,” especially after two-and-a-half years of disruption because of the pandemic.

“It is shameful that education unions will not definitively commit to keeping kids in class until June. Hard-working parents and students deserve stability and that’s what we will continue fighting for.”

Walton, in a memo to members, said no progress was made during bargaining sessions held Tuesday and Wednesday this week. She said the bargaining team had wanted to hear back on issues such as bereavement leave, recruitment and retention of staff.

The union has put forward an offer that includes a wage increase of roughly 11.7 per cent a year, or $3.25 an hour, as well as other improvements.

The province has countered with a two per cent wage bump each year over four years for those making less than $40,000, and a 1.25 per cent increase for those earning more than that.

“To be clear, we are holding on our wage, benefits, job security and funding proposals,” the union has said.

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