Ontario education workers, including librarians, custodians and administrative staff, will vote today on whether or not to strike — and their union is recommending voting yes.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has called Ontario’s original contract offer, which it made public, offensive.
The government has offered a two percent pay increase per year for employees earning less than $40,000 and 1.25 percent for all other employees, while CUPE is targeting annual increases of 11.7 percent.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has criticized CUPE for scheduling strike votes before the first bid was even submitted.
The province’s five major education unions are all negotiating new contracts with the government.
CUPE’s 55,000 teaching staff will vote on whether or not to strike between today and October 2.
Laura Walton, the chairman of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the lack of progress over the last two days of negotiations has “consolidated” why the strike vote is needed.
“Starting (today), 55,000 frontline education workers will have the opportunity to give their negotiating committee a strike mandate to make sure the Ford government and school administrators take us seriously,” she said.
The government has said it wants to tackle the bigger issues, such as salary, job security, sick leave and benefits, at a later date, Walton said. But even attempts at discussion of simpler issues — such as bereavement leave and creating a replacement pool of workers to fill when others are away — haven’t been fruitful, she said.
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Walton has previously said that holding a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean workers will withdraw their shifts, but said in an interview this week that people should be concerned about the state of schools right now. She said there are not enough teaching assistants to provide adequate support and not enough administrators to clean schools regularly.
“Our goal is that we will continue to fight for the services our students need, and we will continue to fight to make sure the staff can afford to provide those services to the students,” she said.
“Right now we see a government that just doesn’t respect the workers.”
Lecce said in a statement that education unions are clearly “ahead of a strike”.
“It has never been clearer that CUPE will go on strike if its demand for an almost 50 percent increase in compensation is not met,” he wrote, referring to what the minister says the total salary would be and several other compensation-related proposals. .
“Instead of continuing their march towards strike and disruption, all unions should promise parents that they will stay at the table and keep children in the classroom. Strikes by education unions every three years hurt children and their working parents by repeatedly sending them back.”
The government has noted that CUPE is also asking for five extra paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of paid preparation time per day, and an increase in overtime pay from a multiplier from 1.5 to 2.
Walton has said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker who earns $39,000.
CUPE and other unions have said they are pushing for hikes to both compensate for their latest contracts subject to a legal cap of one percent per year — known as Bill 124 — and to tackle inflation, which is just under seven. percent.
CUPE has scheduled several more negotiating dates with the government in October, but no more before the strike vote ends.