Education assistant helps studentThe Durham District School Board (DDSB) in Ontario has put its students’ education at risk of needless disruption with its offhand dismissal of the issues that are deeply important to dedicated educational assistants and outdoor education instructors who support students with special needs.

In response, CUPE 218, which represents the workers, will request a “no board report” from the Ministry of Labour, starting a countdown that could see hundreds of educational assistants and outdoor education instructors locked out or on strike as early as April 15.

“The board is letting down students, parents and workers by refusing to respect and value the vital work of educational assistants and outdoor education instructors,” said Dennis Gibbs, President of CUPE 218.

“We’ve been in local negotiations with the board for over a year; we’re also in the middle of a pandemic. We did not come to this decision quickly or easily. But DDSB’s actions and attitude leave us no choice. The union isn’t making any new demands; we simply want to maintain the language we have worked so hard to bargain for over the years.”

CUPE national representative Linda Merkac, who has worked with CUPE 218 during local bargaining, pointed out that members of CUPE 218 have worked flat-out to stop the spread of coronavirus in schools.

Lori Richards, the local’s unit chairperson for EAs, said “Educational assistants continued to support students with special needs in class and virtually, even when schools were closed for learning to other students. The outdoor ed instructors reorganized their schedules to bring programs to the students safely and outdoors at school locations. Yet DDSB seems willing to throw away all that good will and, at the same time, show complete disrespect for the EA/Outdoor Ed Unit. We hope that between now and the mid-April deadline, negotiators for the board will reach a deal that will mean our EAs and Outdoor Ed can keep providing these vital services.”

Central agreements with education workers are negotiated provincially, but school boards in Ontario are also jointly responsible with unions for negotiating local collective agreements. Central agreements deal with workers’ wages, leaves and benefits, whereas local agreements address issues like job security, scheduling, and job requirements.

CUPE has reached local settlements with three of its four bargaining units at DDSB. Office/Clerical/Technical, Continuing Education and Custodial/Maintenance units have all ratified their deals. The Board of Trustees now must ratify those three settlements.

There are approximately 3,000 members of CUPE 218, including 1,135 educational assistants and four outdoor education instructors.