The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has filed another strike notice, with education workers in Ontario poised to go back to work, according to the province’s education minister and the union.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Stephen Lecce said that since talks resumed a few days ago, the province had made several offers that would add “hundreds of millions of dollars across the sector, especially for low-income workers,” but CUPE has so far turned them down She.
“I think it’s totally unfair to children. It’s unnecessary,” Lecce told reporters at Queen’s Park. “We should have these discussions around the table to reach a deal for both the members and our children. And I think we are all disappointed that this is the path the union has taken.
“But this administration will remain resolute and focused on the table to reach an agreement, especially knowing that we have offered a better option with more money — a significant increase, hundreds of millions of dollars more for lower-paid workers.”
In a statement released Wednesday morning, CUPE said education workers had announced a potential province-wide strike that could begin in five days.
The statement said that CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) Central Bargaining Committee was able to strike a middle ground with the province on wages, but claims the government “refused to go into the Investing in services that students need and parents expect, which has accelerated this escalation.”
In the statement, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Union Council, said the union is focused on improving jobs for education workers as well as improving services for students.
According to the union, the province offered a 3.95% salary increase
At a news conference later Wednesday, Walton told reporters the province had offered workers a pay rise of $1 an hour for each year of a contract, a pay rise of 3.95 percent.
“Let me be clear, this is a win for the workers. But it’s not enough,” she said. The sticking point in the talks, Walton said, is that the province is refusing to put money into new student unions.
CUPE said it is still looking for guarantees of increased staffing for teaching assistants, librarians, caretakers and secretaries and an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom, not just in classes with at least 15 students.
“We have five days before this strike period expires. That’s five days for this administration to recognize the opportunity it has to transform the lives of two million Ontario students,” Walton told reporters. “Five days – and then educators, parents and all allies who care about youth and public education in this province will once again make their voices heard.
“Come forward with a deal that will really help students catch up.”
Controversial legislation repealed
The province previously passed legislation called Bill 28 on Nov. 3 to prevent 55,000 CUPE workers from going on strike.
But thousands of workers, including education assistants, librarians and janitors, went out of their jobs anyway earlier this month, closing many schools across the province for two days for in-person classes.
Last week Premier Doug Ford offered to withdraw the law if CUPE members went back to work, which they did.
The law was then repealed on Monday.
When pressed by reporters on Wednesday whether there would be legislation on return-to-work at work, Lecce reiterated that the province would remain at the negotiating table.
The education secretary said the facilitator for discussions had asked both sides to ensure discretion, so he couldn’t give many details – but he said the province’s latest offer included wage increases for all workers, with the biggest increases for the lowest-paid members provided by the union .
Mark Hancock, CUPE national president, said at Wednesday’s press conference that none of the union members really wanted to go on strike.
“Strike is always our last resort and we never take it lightly,” he said. “Our members would much rather work in schools and help children succeed in their classes than picket.”