The union representing 55,000 support staff in Ontario schools says it has asked for the help of a provincial conciliator after being slotted just four dates to bargain with the province and school boards — and with two of those dates after the start of the school year.
After receiving a decision June 29 from the labour board about what could be bargained centrally, “we got in touch right away both with the government and with the Council of Trustee Associations and we wanted to meet and get bargaining started,” said Terri Preston, chair of the bargaining committee for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“We met on two days, which essentially was an exchange of proposals. We’ve have only been given two days toward the end of August and two days in mid-September for bargaining … we were surprised we didn’t get more dates … we were told that’s all they had available.”
Preston said CUPE members — from educational assistants to early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classrooms to school caretakers, in all English, French and Catholic public boards across the province — want to get a deal before the school year starts, and warned they “are not prepared to go another school year without a deal.”
Job action is possible in September, she added.
The labour board ruling outlined what matters should be negotiated at provincial tables, with the government and school board/trustee associations, as well as what could be handled in separate talks with individual boards. Under new provincial bargaining legislation, big items like workload and salary must be hammered out at central talks, leaving non-monetary items to local talks.
Provincially, only the French teachers’ union remains at the bargaining table, after the public elementary, secondary and Catholic unions walked away from talks.
Teacher unions have warned of labour turmoil should they not have a deal by September.
Preston said CUPE is “asking for conciliation to help us move the talks along — having a conciliation officer assigned is part of the criteria to move into strike position.
“But it is our hope that with having a conciliation officer, we can actually get some serious bargaining happening.”
Among the issues she cited is workload, especially “ensuring that kids have the staff they need to support them in their education … there is frustration on the part of many parents about classroom support for their children with special needs, and it’s a key issue for us as well.”