Schools will close if education workers walk off the job Friday

The Trillium Lakelands District Board will close its schools if education workers walk off the job on Friday.

But Wes Hahn, the board’s director of education, said schools will remain open to administrators, designated early childhood educators, teachers, and non-striking staff.

Education workers such as custodial and maintenance workers, office and clerical technical staff, andeducational assistants represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted between Sept. 23 and Oct. 2 in favour of a strike.

“Without our CUPE staff, we cannot safely operate TLDSB schools for students,” Hahn said. “It is important to note that other school boards across the province may have different or fewer employee groups as part of CUPE and, therefore, would be able to keep their schools open.”

In the event of a full strike of CUPE staff on Nov. 4, all student programming will move online with teachers providing asynchronous learning through their online classroom.

In what the union had called an historic vote, as many as 43,821 frontline education workers, or 96.5 per cent of those who voted were in favour of a strike.

The union’s wage proposal was an increase of $3.25 per hour each year in a three-year collective agreement.

The last anybody’s heard, government offered 2.5 per cent wage increases for workers who earn less than $43,000 a year and an increase of 1.5 per cent for people who earn more.

At the start, the Ford Tories’ final offer was two per cent for people who earn less than $40,000 and the 1.5 per cent jump for the others.

Hahn said he’s hopeful an agreement will be negotiated and students can remain in classes.

“We appreciate that timely communication is important to you, and we are committed to providing you with additional details on the CUPE labour action and any impact it may have on school operations as soon as we can,” Hahn said.

The threat of a labour disruption was made even as the province tabled legislation designed to thwart a strike.

The provincial government introduced on Monday the Keeping Students in Class Act. Government said the legislation, if passed, would ensure students remain in the classroom where they belong by establishing a fair and fiscally-responsible four-year collective agreement with CUPE education workers across the province.

“Students are finally back in class catching up following two years of pandemic disruptions,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said. “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.”

The legislation will operate notwithstanding sections 2, 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and despite the Human Rights Code.

By deciding to strike, Lecce said the union is “putting their own self-interest ahead of Ontario’s nearly two million children who deserve to stay in class learning.

“We are delivering on our promise to parents that our government will do whatever it takes to keep students in class so they can catch up and get back to the basics of learning,” he said.

The Keeping Students in Class Act would, if passed, establish a four-year collective agreement for Ontario’s 55,000 education workers that ensures stability for students, Lecce said.

It included a salary increase of 2.5 per cent (increased from an initial offer of 2 per cent) for employees with the top end of their salary/wage grids below $43,000 annually and 1.5 per cent (increased from 1.25 per cent) for employees with the top end of their salary/wage grids above that amount for each year of the contract.

There was an increase in benefits contributions resulting in a $6,120 annual employer contribution per employee by Aug. 31, 2026, and funding through the Support for Students Fund, estimated to support up to 875 teachers and between 1,600 and 1,830 education workers.

Government said its last offer included modification to sick leave and short-term disability leave that protect stability of student learning while maintaining generous pension, benefits, and sick leave programs.

Lecce said government will continue labour bargaining with Ontario’s other education unions.

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times