Against a backdrop of crowded classrooms, fewer opportunities for learning and less support for students, Ontario education workers represented by CUPE have voted in record numbers to deliver a strike mandate of 93 per cent in favor of job action, as part of the fight to protect services for students in Ontario schools.

The results of the province-wide ballot were announced today, after strike votes took place from late August to September 15 across locals that represent 55,000 CUPE education workers.

“Back-to-school in Ontario this year looks very different from last year. Families, students, and workers have all been hurt by the Ford government’s cuts to education,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU). The council is the designated central bargaining agent for CUPE education workers in Ontario.

“Our plan for job action is about standing up for students and protecting the services that CUPE education workers deliver across the province,” said Walton.

The results of the votes put CUPE education workers in a legal strike position as of September 30, even as negotiations with the Council of Trustees’ Associations and the province continue. The parties will meet in bargaining this week on September 17 and 18.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid a labour disruption,” said Walton, confirming that OSBCU and CUPE were available for additional bargaining dates, but adding that “CUPE education workers are ready to stand up for the services that they provide and that students and families depend on.”

In August, OSBCU issued an open letter to parents and families of Ontario’s schoolchildren, laying out the reasons CUPE education workers were preparing for potential labour disruption and asking for families’ support and understanding. Walton believes that education workers’ cause has struck a chord.

“CUPE members have been reaching out for months to parents, families and supporters of Ontario’s system of public education. We know we share the same goals,” said Walton.

“Just like us, they want more education assistants to support children with special needs. They want enough custodians to keep schools clean and healthy. They don’t want long wait lists for vulnerable children to get the help they need from school boards’ psychologists, child and youth workers, or social workers. They want more early childhood educators so that young children get the most from their early learning years. They want music, language and arts instructors who can enrich their children’s learning experience.

“If it takes job action to defend high-quality, well-supported, and well-rounded public education, then CUPE education workers are ready,” she concluded.