Students return to classrooms

SOUTH DUNDAS – Students at the region’s two English-language school boards returned to class Tuesday after a two-day labour disruption.

Non-teaching education workers represented by CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions bargaining union walked off the job Friday in protest of the passage of Bill 28 – the Keeping Students in Class Act. The bill used Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, otherwise known as the Notwithstanding Clause, removing the union’s right to strike and legislatively imposed a four year labour agreement.

The Upper Canada District School Board and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario moved students to remote learning beginning last Friday (November 4).

Monday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford offered to rescind the legislation if the OSBCU returned to the bargaining table. OSBCU President Laura Walton agreed that workers would be back on the job.

The UCDSB sent a letter to families Monday afternoon confirming the return to in-person learning on November 8. Community Use of schools for after school recreation programs in the community were cancelled until November 9, as staff focused on students returning to class. Students at the CDSBEO also returned to in-person learning on November 8.

Over one million students were out of school due to the two day labour protest. The union – which represents custodians, educational assistants, office administrator, and other non-teaching staff – has been without a contract since the end of August.

Negotiations stalled over wages, with the union asking an 11 per cent increase for its workers. The government offering a two-tiered set of increases at 2.5 per cent for workers earning less than $43,000 per year and 1.5 per cent for those earning over that figure.

Walton told reporters that while her union members going back to work, they want a fair negotiated deal asap with the government.

The labour action and government’s preceding legislation is unpopular with Ontarians, more so on the government’s handling of the education crisis.

A survey released November 6 by polling firm Abacus Data said that among those surveyed by the firm, 62 per cent blamed Premier Doug Ford and his government for the current situation, and 71 per cent want the government to negotiate a fair deal with education workers.

Almost half (48 per cent) of those surveyed said they supported other public sector unions joining the labour action and 50 per cent of those surveyed opposed the use of the Notwithstanding Clause in Ford’s legislation.

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