CUPE-Ontario government talks continue as Sunday strike deadline approaches – Toronto Star | Team Cansler

Talks between the government and CUPE resumed first on Sunday morning, when a 5pm deadline loomed to reach an agreement or see 55,000 school support workers picket lines.

The sides have promised to let parents know at this point if the children will be at school in person on Monday or if they should prepare for a strike.

The brokered talks, taking place at a downtown Toronto hotel, are a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement before the 55,000 educators, educators, educational assistants and others across many school boards will quit their jobs Monday.

Meanwhile, internal polls by the Progressive Conservatives show that three-quarters of Ontario residents want students in the classroom.

People would blame the government and the union alike if schools were to close on Monday, according to a new Campaign Research poll carried out for the Tories and presented to the Star.

A third – 33 per cent – blamed the Tories, while 31 per cent blamed the Canadian Public Employees Union and 30 per cent said both sides were to blame. Six percent did not know.

But 77 percent agree it’s “important” that students stay in schools without further disruption, while just 16 percent say it’s not important and seven percent didn’t know.

Campaign Research surveyed 1,482 people across Ontario Thursday and Friday using the Maru/Blue online panel. It’s an opt-in survey, but for comparison purposes, a random sample of this size would have an error rate of plus or minus three percentage points 19 times out of 20.

The poll was commissioned by the PC Caucus and given to the star by a Tory who was not authorized to share it.

About 58 percent of respondents agree that the government’s wage increase of 15.2 percent over four years was fair.

Less than a third – 29 percent – disagree and 13 percent didn’t know.

CUPE has said the pay rise is equivalent to an annual increase of $1 an hour over the next four years.

“We continue to work hard to do what we can to provide the best deal for students, families and frontline education staff,” CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Union Council said in a statement on Saturday.

“… Whilst we hope that a strike will not be necessary, we are committed to informing parents as early as possible of any action taken in the workplace.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Saturday: “To keep children in the classroom, we have repeatedly enhanced our offering at CUPE, including an additional $335 million pay rise for education workers alone.”

He said this is “in addition to funding the hiring of nearly 7,000 more workers and protecting one of the best pension, benefits and paid sick leave programs in the country.”

Lecce again urged the union to “do the same thing and put the children first by canceling their second strike in two weeks. After years of difficulties, like every parent in this province, we know that the students deserve to be in class on Mondays.”

CUPE held a series of rallies on Saturday, including in Yonge-Dundas Square and at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office in Etobicoke.

On Friday, the government announced that in the event of a strike, it would cover the cost of day care for health and childcare workers so they can keep their jobs.

CUPE bargaining unit president Laura Walton said the union was looking for more staff beyond wages, including educational assistants – who help in classrooms, often students with special needs – and early childhood educators and carers.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce

If there is a strike, schools have been ordered to stay open when they can and offer live online learning when that is not possible.

Earlier this month, CUPE held a two-day strike that ended after Ford agreed to back down from its controversial Bill 28, which preemptively attempted to ban labor measures, and imposed a four-year contract using the charter’s “whatever clause”.

This sparked a nationwide outcry from union leaders.

Campaign Research’s poll showed that most Ontario residents — 53 percent — opposed Ford’s law, while 40 percent supported it and eight percent were unaware.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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