As students and staff return to schools this week after the holiday break, 970 students at Blaisdale Montessori schools in Ontario could be facing possible school closures starting next week if mediation talks between CUPE 5257 and management, scheduled for Friday, January 13, fail to reach a fair collective agreement, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The legal strike or lockout deadline is 12:01 a.m., January 14.

“We are educators and we take great pride in our work,” says Katie Massie, president of CUPE 5257. “But we have been thwarted by management in trying to achieve our goal of reaching our first collective agreement to improve the working and learning conditions at Blaisdale.”

The 127 Blaisdale staff, represented by CUPE 5257, have been trying to negotiate their first collective agreement since they voted to join CUPE in September 2015. “Our wages have been frozen for the past two years, while the cost of living, including accommodation, food and hydro, has increased dramatically,” continued Massie. “On top of the wage freeze, the employer is refusing to provide retroactive wage increases to address the problem.”

“The wage freeze issue is even more problematic for the 33 per cent of our members who earn $13.50 an hour or less,” says Massie. “We would rather be helping students in the schools than walking the picket lines, but we also need to make a decent living so we can continue to do what we do best – providing quality education to students whose families are paying significant tuition fees to attend Blaisdale.”

Blaisdale Montessori school operates in eight campuses throughout Ontario, including schools in Oshawa, Ajax, Pickering, Scarborough and Bowmanville. “While Blaisdale proudly states that it is one of the first Montessori School in Canada, Blaisdale should be enhancing that proud tradition by offering a fair first contract to the front-line educators. This will demonstrate that Blaisdale values such as ‘respect, fairness, social conscience, initiative and self-confidence’ are not just words used for marketing purposes, but represent ideals that are promoted in everyday actions,” says Massie. “We are urging management to return to bargaining on Friday with a clear goal to bargain a first collective agreement that is fair, so staff can continue to provide exceptional education and child care services and avoid disruption to students and their families.”