Ontario education workers, including librarians, custodians and administrative staff, are scheduled to begin voting today on whether to strike — and their union is recommending they vote yes.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has called Ontario’s initial contract offer, which it made public, “abusive.”
The government has offered an annual increase of two per cent 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 Lakes has criticized CUPE for planning strike votes before the first offer was tabled.
The province’s five major education unions are negotiating new contracts with the government.
CUPE’s 55,000 education worker members are set to vote between today and October 2 on whether to strike.
The union says negotiations have been difficult so far.
Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says the lack of progress over the last two days of bargaining “reinforced” why a strike vote is necessary.
“Starting today, 55,000 front-line education workers will have the opportunity to give their bargaining committee a strike mandate so that the Ford government and school board trustees take us seriously,” he said.
Walton said the government has said it wants to deal with major issues at a later date, such as pay, job security, sick leave and benefits. But even efforts to negotiate simple issues — such as bereavement leave and creating a replacement pool of workers to fill in when others are away — have not been productive, he said.
Walton previously said holding a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean workers will withdraw services, but said in an interview this week that people should be concerned about the state of schools right now. There are not enough teaching assistants to provide adequate support and not enough guards to clean the schools regularly, he said.
“Our goal is that we will continue to fight for the services that our students need, and we will continue to fight to make sure that staff can afford to provide those services to students,” she said.
“Right now we’re seeing a government that just continues to disrespect workers.”
Union ‘charging ahead’ for strike, says education minister
Lecce said in a statement that education unions were clearly “moving forward” towards a strike.
“It has never been more clear that CUPE will strike if its demand for a pay rise of around 50 per cent is not met,” he wrote, referring to the minister saying that the total pay There will be various other proposals related to money and compensation.
“Instead of continuing our march toward strikes and disruptions, all unions should promise parents that they will stay at the table and keep kids in classrooms. Every three years, education unions strike to protect kids and their jobs. They hurt the parents by sending them back again and again.”
The government has noted that CUPE is offering five additional paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of pay preparation time each day, and increasing overtime pay by a factor of 1.5 to 2.
Walton has said the government’s offer is an extra $800 a year for the average worker earning $39,000.
CUPE and other unions have said they are pushing for raises to compensate for their last contracts that are subject to a legislative cap of one percent a year – known as Bill 124 – and to deal with inflation. for, which is running at just under seven percent.
CUPE has several more bargaining dates with the government scheduled for October, but no more before the end of the strike vote.