Education worker strike a possibility again

55,000 education workers across the province could yet again be on strike as of Monday, just shy of two weeks after their initial strike action ended.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) gave five day strike notice on Wednesday morning, saying bargaining talks with the province had broken down after a week of employees being back to work in schools.

While the Conservative government has increased their offer when it comes to wages, by roughly 3.59% or a dollar an hour, President of CUPE-OBSCU Laura Walton said it's not enough, and maintained that improving supports for students is an important part of negotiations that has been largely ignored.

“From the beginning, we’ve been focused on improved jobs for education workers and improved services for students. For us, there is no one without the other,” Walton said in CUPE's statement.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that the Ford government categorically refused to put money on the table to give students the type of learning environment they need.”

Walton said the Ford government came back with an offer that still was "without a single cent for students" and has left the union no choice.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Conservative government offered more putting "hundreds of millions of dollars on the table", and like Ford reiterated that the government has acted in "good faith".

As strike action closed schools across the province November 6 and November 7, Limestone District School Board said given the critical roles of employees involved in the strike it would be impossible to safely open schools, and pivoted to remote learning.

At this time, the school board has yet to release an official board statement and it's unclear if schools would again flip to remote learning in the wake of a strike.

With a strike looming earlier in the month, the Ford government passed legislation essentially barring employees from their right to strike, and repealed it as workers vowed to get back in the classrooms.

CUPE 1480 Local President Erin Provost said while there's always a fear of the government imposing that legislation again or writing new legislation, employees standing up to the bill last time might make them second guess that decision.

"I think the fact that we stood up to them the last time, they'll have second thoughts about reintroducing that bill again," Provost said.

Provost echoed Walton's words saying that the biggest thing standing in the way of a deal getting done is the government's refusal to add any adequate supports for students.

"We've asked all along for a collective agreement that is good for workers, for families and for students," Provost said.

"They refuse to invest any money in supports for students that would help students catch up in the classroom instead of having them go to private companies for tutoring, or add more EAs or more mental health professionals to the classroom to lessen the workload because the needs are just greater than the bodies that we have."

The local union president said that binding arbitration is not something that has come up as an option at the table yet.

If a deal is not reached, education workers could hit the picket lines as of Monday November 21, and schools across Ontario could likely be forced to close their doors again.

UPDATE-

On Wednesday afternoon LDSB released a statement that was sent to families in the district, the statement confirms that if strike action begins again schools will once again be forced to close in the area.

"Given the range of critical roles and services provided by over 750 CUPE members in Limestone, with a full withdrawal of services, we cannot safely operate schools and provide in-person learning. As a result, unless a settlement is achieved, all schools and buildings will be closed to students and the public on Monday, November 21, 2022," the statement reads.

"Families should have a contingency plan in place for Monday and potentially longer if central negotiations do not resume. We do remain hopeful that the parties will resolve this matter with a negotiated settlement... The Board greatly values the work of all its employees and their commitment to student learning and well-being. Limestone respects the collective bargaining process and are hopeful for a negotiated agreement, will be reached this week without any impact on classrooms and board operations. "

Regulations restricting daycares from providing service to school aged children during instructional hours could force a number of parents to have to miss work if strikes do go on.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News