EDUCATION: Custodians, other support workers may escalate job action

Schools still face labour unrest

Azzura Lalani

By Azzura Lalani, The London Free Press

(Postmedia Network file photo)

(Postmedia Network file photo)

There may yet be labour peace in Ontario schools next week, but it may not be neat and tidy.

Two of the Big Three teachers’ union have reached tentative contract deals with the province and school boards. But the union for 55,000 support workers, including custodians says, it’s prepared to escalate job actions during the first week of school in a bid to pressure the province in its contract talks.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) plans to begin with work-to-rule before increasing to rotating strikes and eventually a provincewide strike.

The workers — educational assistants, janitors, early childhood educators and speech pathologists — have been working under an expired contract.

The province has tentative deals in place with English Catholic teachers and public high school teachers, but is still in talks with francophone and public elementary teachers.

Like Ontario’s 130,000 teachers, who spent last school year in a standoff with the cash-strapped Liberal government, the support workers ended the year without a deal, pushing the impasse into the summer.

Their union has since filed a so-called no-board report, moving it closer to a legal strike position.

“We are frustrated. We’re frustrated with our people being available and making themselves available and they weren’t receiving dates (for bargaining), said Heather Skolly, president of CUPE’s Local 7575, which represents about 1,000 support workers in the Thames Valley District school board.

Skolly said it’s unlikely a deal can be reached before school begins Sept. 8 because some of the bargaining dates are later in the month.

While Education Minister Liz Sandals has said the province is working to reach deals with the entire education sector, union members like Skolly aren’t so sure.

“When Liz Sandals and (Premier) Kathleen Wynne had their big ‘let’s get down to some serious bargaining’ with the teacher representatives and the Crown and trustee associations, our . . . representatives weren’t even invited,” she said.

Talks with the 74,000-member Ontario public elementary teachers’ union are to resume Tuesday.

With files by Jane Sims, The London Free Press, and Canadian Press

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Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (public high school): Deal reached, ratification next month. Deal includes a one per cent lump sum, 1.5 per cent raise in Year 2 and another paid professional day.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (public elementary): Central talks resume Sept. 1; next phase in work-to-rule starts Sept. 8. Expect admin slowdown, no field trips or fundraising.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association: Tentative deal reached Aug. 25.

Support staff: 55,000 members in Catholic and public boards. Contract expired. Could soon be in a legal strike position. Planned job action could expand to rotating strikes and full provincewide strike.


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