HomeWorldOntario CUPE education workers begin voting on whether to strikeSEDI News

Ontario CUPE education workers begin voting on whether to strikeSEDI News

Ontario education workers, including librarians, custodians and administrative staff, are set to start voting today on whether to strike — and their union is recommending they vote yes.

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The Canadian Union of Public Employees has called Ontario’s initial contract offer public, calling it offensive.

The government has offered raises of two per cent a year for workers earning less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all other workers, while CUPE is seeking an 11.7 per cent annual increase.

Education Minister Stephen Lacey has criticized CUPE for organizing strike votes before the first offer was presented.

The province’s five main education unions are in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the government.

CUPE’s 55,000 education worker members are set to vote between today and October 2 on whether to strike.

Discussions so far have been difficult, the union says

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the lack of progress in the past two days of bargaining has “reinforced” why a strike vote is necessary.

“(Starting today) 55,000 front-line education workers will have an opportunity to order a strike to their bargaining committee so that the Ford government and school board trustees take us seriously.”

The government has said it wants to address big issues like pay, job security, sick leave and benefits at a later date, Walton said. But even efforts to discuss simpler issues — such as bereavement leave and creating a replacement pool of workers to fill in when others are away — have not been fruitful, she said.

Walton previously said the strike vote did not mean workers would withdraw services, but said in an interview this week that people should be concerned about the state of schools right now. She said there were not enough educational assistants to provide adequate support and not enough custodians to clean the schools regularly.

“Our goal is that we will continue to fight for the services our students need, and we will continue to fight for staff to be able to provide those services to students,” she said.

“Right now we are seeing a government that continues to disrespect workers.”

Union ‘charges ahead’ for strike, says education minister

Lacy said in a statement that education unions were clearly “charging ahead” towards a strike.

“It has never been clearer that CUPE will strike if its demand for a nearly 50 percent increase in compensation is not met,” he wrote, referring to what the minister said would be proposals related to gross pay and various other compensations.

“Instead of continuing their march to strike and disruption, all unions should promise parents that they will stay at the table and keep children in the classroom. Education union strikes every three years hurt children and their working parents by repeatedly setting them back.”

The government noted that CUPE is also asking for five additional 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 of 1.5 to 2.

Walton has said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker earning $39,000.

CUPE and other unions have said they are pushing both to refinance their last contract – known as Bill 124 – and to address inflation, which is running at just under seven per cent.

CUPE has several more bargaining dates with the government scheduled in October, but not much before the strike vote ends.