Education worker’s strike closes public schools Friday in Oshawa, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Clarington

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Published October 31, 2022 at 8:30 pm

The Durham District School Board will shutter all of the public schools in the Region amid the expected strike of education support workers on Friday.

Today, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents school custodians, education assistants, IT workers, secretaries and other support staff, submitted the five-day notice of their plan to strike.

The move came after months of protracted negotiations with Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario Government through Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

CUPE said the government’s negotiating style has been little but “bullying practices” throughout the process in their announcement.

Lecce has been negotiating in public for much of the process and has firmly held the offer of 2.5 per cent for employees earning less than $25.95/hr (or $40,000/year), and 1.5 per cent for those earning more.

During the negotiations, inflation reached a 39-year high of 8.1 per cent in June, before falling to 6.9 per cent in October. Given the high inflation, Lecce’s 2.5 per cent “raise” is in fact 4.4 per cent pay cut for CUPE members.

He and the government have announced a $200 to $250 individual payment to parents as a “catch-up payment.” In total this plan, will cost Ontario about $365 million.

CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said, Lecce, “has a choice to offer an adequate salary increase that compensates for over a decade of wage cuts. He has a choice to invest in education to ensure adequate staffing levels from the classrooms to the libraries. And he has a choice to continue negotiations without having the threat of ramming through a contract full of concessions and wage cuts over the heads of frontline workers.”

Lecce himself has instead blamed the union for a failure to compromise and accept the government’s offer saying, ““Students are finally back in class catching up, following two years of pandemic disruptions. We are disappointed that CUPE is refusing to compromise on their demand for a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation, representing a price tag close to $19-billion if extended across the sector.”

Hahn fired back, “A half percent wage increase to an already-insulting offer isn’t generous. An additional 200 bucks in the pockets of workers earning 39K isn’t generous. It wouldn’t even be generous to accept our proposal – it would be necessary, reasonable, and affordable. It’s simply what’s needed in our schools.”

While the Ontario Government projected a $33 billion deficit for this fiscal year, it was instead found to be more than $2 billion in the black in September.

Since the Union and the Government had not come to an agreement on a contract, Lecce table a motion, invoking the notwithstanding clause, to force a contract on the CUPE members. The notwithstanding clause is used to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year period, allowing provinces to suspend their citizen’s rights for that time.

The seldom used clause had not been invoked in Ontario since it’s 1982 inception until Ford’s government took Queen’s Park. Since then it has been invoked three times in 2018, 2021, and now. However it’s use in 2018 was found to be unnecessary and later dropped.

Lecce’s motion would force CUPE members to work with the new contract and fine them $4,000 per employee and up to $500,000 for the union for each day of a strike.

CUPE voted to strike regardless of the legislation.

“On Friday, regardless of what this government does, we will be engaging in province-wide political protest where no CUPE education worker will be on the job until we get a real deal. Our members will not have their rights legislated away. Now’s the time to stand up for ourselves and public education and that’s just what we’re going to do,” Hahn said.

In announcing the school closures the DDSB said “We recognize how disruptive it is when schools are closed. However, due to health and safety reasons our schools will not be able to operate on Friday without CUPE employees at work.”

“While the DDSB is not directly involved in the provincial negotiations, it is our sincere hope that an agreement can be reached before Friday,” the board said.

The Durham District Catholic School Board has not yet announced it’s plans.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, which operated some schools in Clarington has likewise closed their schools. Schools in Halton have followed suit, as have Catholic Schools in Hamilton. Public schools in the city however will remain open.

 

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