With no new funding relief for school support services announced in last week’s Ontario budget and a pro-cuts provincial supervisor hovering over contract negotiations between custodians and trades workers and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), the tense talks reached an impasse this week.
Larry Stevenson, the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1483, says that the 700 school custodians and trades staff at the catholic board will be taking a strike vote in the coming weeks. On Monday (this week), CUPE 1483 filed for conciliation with the labour ministry, a move Stevenson believes could get negotiations back on track and avoid a labour disruption.
CUPE 1483 and school board negotiators began contract talks in November. Shortly after, the Liberal government-imposed supervisor indicated that he would be using contract talks with school board staff as a way to make budget cuts.
Throughout the negotiations, CUPE 1483 has questioned whether the board negotiators have the authority to bargain a deal since supervisor Norbert Hartmann—who is acting for the McGuinty government—indicated in a February 28th letter to the union, that he is making all final decisions on the board’s financial matters.
“With no significant funding coming for custodial and trades services from the province in the recent budget, and a pro-cuts supervisor pulling the strings behind the scenes on behalf of the government, there’s a cloud hovering over this round of negotiations. That’s not helpful to reaching a settlement.
“In addition, it’s not clear if those negotiating for the board even have a mandate to reach a settlement based on the proposals that are now on the bargaining table. We are at an impasse, but our goal is to avoid labour turmoil,” says Stevenson.
With last week’s provincial budget, the Liberals are continuing a decade-long pattern of funding that has short-changed the so-called non-classroom areas of schools, like custodial and trades services. In fact, funding for school operations, as a percentage of overall provincial funding, will decline to 9.36% in 2007-08 from 9.7% in 2005-06. Studies show that the province currently underfunds school operations, like cleaning and maintenance, by $375 million a year.
At a recent Dufferin-Peel catholic board meeting, administrators indicated that once McGuinty government initiatives, like smaller class sizes and the framework agreement with teachers for additional preparation time, are factored in, provincial funding won’t even cover the cost of inflation and the school board will still be struggling with a deficit.