TORONTO – Results have been tallied in strike votes held across Ontario over the month of March, and education workers have given their union a 93% mandate to take job action if necessary in the current round of provincial negotiations.
“That number says it all,” said Terri Preston, chair of CUPE’s provincial school board bargaining committee, which is negotiating with a council representing employers from Ontario’s English and French public school boards, English and French Catholic school boards (Council of Trustee Associations), and the provincial government. “Our members have communicated clearly their commitment to fighting concessions. They have also said, through the strong mandate they’ve given us, that they are deeply frustrated with the pace and tone of this process so far.”
The parties have been meeting since the fall of 2014 and have so far been unable to reach agreement on a list of items that will be bargained centrally vs. what will be bargained locally. “In a normal round of talks, we bring our list, they bring their list, and we get down to talking,” said Jim Morrison, staff coordinator for CUPE’s school board sector. “In this new process, we are not even able to agree to what we’re talking about, and we’ve had to invoke a dispute resolution process at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). It’s discouraging.”
“There are a number of items that belong at the central table,” said Preston. “For instance – ensuring schools are properly maintained and safe for kids – that is a province-wide issue. Finding ways to keep educational assistants in the classroom – that is also a province-wide issue. Our members have ideas about cost-savings that apply across the province – these things belong at the central table. The strike mandate our members have given us reflects a great frustration with our lack of agreement on something that simple.”
This is the first round of talks unfolding according to a new process established by legislation, in which a central table determines, by mutual agreement or by dispute resolution hearings at the OLRB, what will be bargained centrally. Local bargaining (local school boards bargaining with union locals on all matters that are not at the central table) will happen concurrently once there is agreement on a list of central issues.
At the same time the central strike vote was taken, locals across the province also took strike votes on their local issues.
CUPE represents 55,000 education workers in Ontario, including educational assistants, school office staff, custodians, early childhood educators, instructors, library technicians, trades people, information technologists, social workers, and student supervisors.
Monday, March 30th – 6:00 p.m.
Holy Angels Learning Centre, 102 Wellington St. E., Sault Ste. Marie, ON
I cannot stress enough how important it is that you attend one of the Strike Vote meetings listed. If we are going to be successful at the bargaining tables it is critical that we send a unified message of solidarity to the provincial government and the school boards. Preference would be that Sault and area members attend the Saturday evening meeting at Superior Heights if possible since it is the largest venue and will be with our CUPE 16 brothers and sisters from the public board.
Thursday, March 26th – 6:00 p.m.
Royal Canadian Legion Branch 576,
5 Brennan Harbour Rd., Spanish, ON
Friday, March 27th – 4:00 p.m.
St. Basil’s Catholic School,
300 Spruce St., White River, ON
Friday, March 27th – 6:30 p.m.
Michipicoten High School,
86 Magpie Rd., Wawa, ON
Saturday, March 28th – 10:00 a.m.
Chapleau Public School,
20 Teak St., Chapleau, ON
Saturday, March 28th – 3:00 p.m.
Central Algoma Secondary School, Desbarats, ON
Saturday, March 28th – 7:00 p.m.
Superior Heights C. & V.S.,
750 North St., Sault Ste. Marie, ON
This is a crucial time for all Education Support Workers province wide. It is a time that we need to come together in solidarity and send a strong message to the provincial government that we want bargaining to get moving and that we want it to be meaningful at both the central and the local tables.
The complacency with which the government and school boards have approached the bargaining process, especially for support staff, is frankly insulting. We had to wait an extra two months last year – from June 3 to August 5 – just to give notice to bargain centrally for support staff. Why? Because the government hadn’t got around to creating the required regulation under the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act. And thanks to several more unnecessary delays, it is now seven months later and we are still waiting to begin negotiating at the central table.
Education support staff are a critical part of Ontario’s education system – a system that is already ranked in the top 5 in the world. It’s not the government and it’s not the school boards who keep the system in the top five. It’s the people who work every day in our schools and school boards. It’s all of us and the 50,000 CUPE education sector workers province wide: the clerical staff who have a list of duties as long as my arm, the custodial and maintenance staff who ensure we have the clean and safe schools that have been proven to have a direct impact on student achievement, the EA’s who provide the required supports for our special needs and behavioural students, and the ECE’s who work in partnership with Kindergarten teachers in the education of our youngest students.
We do this work because we understand how inherently valuable it is.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares that understanding. And I don’t have to tell you that it’s been years since the government or the school boards of this province have given us any tangible evidence that they recognize the scope of our contribution or the value of the work we do. If anything, what we have seen over the last three years is an outright disregard for our dedication, our commitment and our value.
The time is now, sisters and brothers, for us to take action. The time is now to demand the recognition we deserve. We are through with having our work devalued and our working conditions diminished. We are through with having everything we’ve worked for slowly chiseled away by a government and school boards that apparently can’t get their heads around the fact that our working conditions are also the learning conditions of our students. The government and school boards that still haven’t figured out that when they devalue our work, they devalue the entire system and that when they attack us, they attack student success.
Our goals in this round of bargaining remain consistent. We expect real improvements in working conditions and in compensation for all of our members. And we’re not talking about improvements that we pay for ourselves through efficiencies and job losses, but real improvements that reflect a tangible appreciation on the part of the government and the school boards for the value and the significance of the work we do every day, and for the dedication and professionalism we bring to that work.
The time is now, brothers and sisters, to once again muster our collective strength, as CUPE members have had to do many times before us. It’s time for us to look to our left and look to our right and say, “Sister, Brother, I’ve got your back.” It’s time to commit to each other. It’s time for us to speak in a strong, clear, unified voice, and to say to the government and to the school boards of this province that our patience has run out, and that it’s no longer acceptable for them to treat us as if the work we do doesn’t matter.
It’s time for us to stand together until the government and the school boards of this province stop pretending that we haven’t already given enough. Until they come to the table with something more than frozen salaries and diminished working conditions. Until they show us in a tangible way that they finally understand and appreciate the value of the work we do.
Please, please show your support for all of our brothers and sisters in the Education Sector and for the bargaining teams representing us provincially and locally. Please show your support and vote YES.