By Mike Verdone, Sault Star
After teachers’ union leaders endorsed tentative deals with the provincial government last week, and subsequently backed away from proposed job actions, the union that represents 55,000 Ontario education workers is threatening job actions when students return to school next week.
On Saturday, about 400 CUPE delegates in Toronto voted overwhelmingly in favour of escalating job actions if negotiations with Ontario’s Liberal government do not progress well.
CUPE leaders have devised “an action plan which would start with work-to-rule and then escalate according to how the tone of the talks are going,” said CUPE Local 4148 president Vicky Evans, who represents about 420 support staff at the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board.
Members include clerical staff, library and maintenance workers, custodians, educational assistants and early childhood educators.
CUPE also represents custodians at schools in the Algoma District School Board.
While possible job actions would begin with work-to-rule, they could progress to rotating strikes and even a province-wide strike, Evans said.
Union members will be in a legal strike position Sept. 10.
“But what happens on that date will depend on our direction from our central agency,” Evans said. Negotiations between provincial CUPE representatives and the government took place Monday and were expected to continue today (Tuesday).
“I’m hopeful, but so far the tone has not been good,” Evans said.
Further contract talks are set for Sept. 10, 11, 15 – 17.
The CUPE workers have been without a contract since the end of August last year.
“CUPE feels that we’ve been pretty much ignored for the past year. We’ve been trying to get negotiating with the employer and the government and it’s been one roadblock after another,” Evans said. “We feel a lot of disrespect because it’s been about the teachers time and time and time again. We’ve been forgotten.”
Most members of the local are educational assistants who make less than $30,000, Evans noted.
“We haven’t had a pay increase for a few years now. On top of that, 27 of my full-time educational assistants have been bumped to part-time with the special education funding cuts. And also, 13 of my part-time educational assistants have been laid off.”
After the leadership of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation ratified deals last week reached with the province, the unions suspended any plans for strike action and also said teachers will resume extracurricular activities when the new school year begins next Tuesday.
Although the deals were endorsed by union reps, members in locals have yet to vote on the agreements.