‘People need to be patient’: Education contracts set to expire across Ontario

All Ontario education contracts expire Wednesday — but the school year will start up on time, with no job action planned.

“It’s not Cinderella, and the pumpkin is not going to change at midnight,” said Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done, and be there to serve the needs of the students of the province.”

As negotiations continue between the unions, government and school boards, Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said all sides are “keeping the lines of communication open.”

CUPE, however, has filed for conciliation and also launched a new public awareness campaign as it seeks to boost the average wage of its 55,000 school board workers, which includes caretakers, educational assistants and early childhood educators.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, said as contracts expire, so does job security for her members — and a couple of boards have already laid off some custodians.

“This is why we filed for conciliation,” she said, adding she’d like more bargaining dates in the coming weeks. “This is people’s livelihoods; it’s important. We’re hoping with the conciliation officer coming on board, that will help focus — this is what’s important.”

CUPE’s campaign, “$39k is not enough,” is to highlight the lower average pay for its workers. While $39,000 is the average pay for support staff, that figure includes part-time workers. An educational assistant in the Kawartha-Pine Ridge school board earns just under $35,000 a year, and a trades worker in the Hamilton-Wentworth public board earns $56,500 a year.

CUPE is seeking a $3.25 an hour increase each year, or roughly 11.7 per cent.

A caretaker in the York Region public board earns about $48,000 a year, while an early childhood educator in the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario earns almost $37,000 a year.

At Queen’s Park, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government offer of a two per cent increase a year over four years for those earning less than $40,000 and a 1.25 per cent increase for those earning more is “fair and reasonable and affordable for the taxpayer. ”

“We’re going to continue to negotiate in good faith,” Lecce said. “We believe kids need to be in school — nothing should prevent them from being in school in September right to June. And we’re going to have good-faith discussions with that union — we did last time and we were able to get a deal early with that union.”

Lecce said he hopes CUPE will “stay at the table instead of turning to conciliation, which is another step towards a strike.”

Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario — the largest teacher union in the country — said “our contracts always expire on Aug. 31. We’re really in the very early stages of bargaining … we’re at the baby steps of the process, establishing where we’re going, the parameters, and all those very early, early steps.”

Abraham said parents can rest assured there won’t be any job action at the start of the school year. CUPE is the only union to schedule a strike vote, set for the end of September and early October — a move that bolsters the union resolve at the bargaining table but does not necessarily lead to workers hitting the picket lines.

“People need to be patient, and calm,” Abraham said.

“This is the normal process of negotiations — that there are steps that have to be taken in order to get the process to move forward,” she said, referring to CUPE’s upcoming strike vote.

“That’s where we are, and there’s no need to panic or worry, especially about the first week of school. There’s no way that it’s just not going to happen.”


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