Labour disruption may close schools November 4

TORONTO – Labour issues between the Ontario government and the union representing school board custodians, educational assistants and other non-teaching positions may mean a day or more off school.

The Ontario School Board Council of Unions, a bargaining unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, notified the province of strike action on November 4 if no agreement is reached.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce introduced back-to-work legislation on October 31 which will impose a four year contract on the union.

The bill, named the Keeping Students in Class Act, uses Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, otherwise known as the Notwithstanding Clause, to override the collective bargaining process.

The legislation continues to proceed through the Ontario legislature as of Tuesday afternoon and is expected to be passed before November 4.

The OSBCU still plans to strike on Friday if no contract is reached between the two sides, regardless of any legislation passed.

“We are disappointed that CUPE is refusing to compromise on their demand for a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation, representing a price tag close to $19-billion if extended across the sector,” said Lecce, in a release. “CUPE has now made the decision to strike, putting their own self interest ahead of Ontario’s nearly two million children, who deserve to stay in class learning.”

CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said that the Education Minister wants familes to believe he has no other choice for the legislation.

“But that’s simply not true. He has a choice to offer an adequate salary increase that compensates for over a decade of wage cuts,” Hahn said.

The OSBCU is seeking an 11 per cent wage increase, while the province’s last offer was for 2.5 per cent for workers earning under $43,000 per year, 1.5 per cent for those earning more than $43,000.

“Lecce calls this offer a generous one,” said Hahn. “A half percent wage increase to an already-insulting offer isn’t generous. An additional 200 bucks in the pockets of workers earning 39K isn’t generous. We have three more days of bargaining left despite the tabling of this legislation and imposing this totally inadequate contract.”

Local school boards are dealing with the uncertainty of an education strike or protest by OSBCU members by making alternative arrangements or closing schools.

The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario said in a release October 31 that if the strike/protest takes place, students will move to remote learning for November 4.

“Teachers are not CUPE members and therefore will connect with students through the Teams or Brightspace (D2L) platforms,” the CDSBEO said in an update. “Without CUPE workers on-site, however, we simply cannot ensure safe conditions for all students and staff.”

The Upper Canada District School Board said that with 25 per cent of that board’s employees being CUPE members, its schools will close November 4 if labour action moves ahead.

“If CUPE participates in any kind of labour action or protest that takes staff out of schools, all UCDSB schools will be closed to students,” the UCDSB said in an update. “We cannot safely operate schools without these employees.”

The UCDSB also cancelled all Community Use of its schools from November 4-7 due to the possible action.

“Our custodial staff may not be available to set up, take down, or clean our facilities and we cannot guarantee that our facilities will be available or suitable for Community Use bookings,” said coordinator Lisa Hunt.

Other school boards across the province are also cancelling classes, closing schools, or moving to remote learning for the day.

Education unions in Ontario have been without a contract since August 30, 2022. The OSBCU/CUPE contract is the first of five major agreements up for negotiation. The remaining four unions are the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens. Combined the unions represent over 200,000 teachers in the province.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader