On Tuesday, the central bargaining committee elected by Ontario’s 55,000 frontline education workers presented a full package of bargaining proposals to the Council of Trustees’ Associations and provincial government negotiators in an effort to push the Ford government to get a fair deal done before September.
These workers’ Proposals for Student Success and Good Jobs, if accepted, would:
- Guarantee increased services for students;
- Protect service levels against cuts;
- Help solve school boards’ problems retaining and recruiting workers; and
- Increase government funding for children’s education after 10 years of real cuts.
“Without our hard work and dedication, Ontario schools wouldn’t function,” said educational assistant Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions. “My co-workers and I worked throughout this pandemic, often as the only employees in schools. We kept schools clean and safe, and provided services to students who could not learn remotely.”
“Real provincial government cuts to funding for education and school boards’ discretionary decisions to cut staff have put many education workers on the brink of poverty while risking students’ success,” observed Walton. “Students and workers both deserve better than the crumbs this government throws our way, so my coworkers and I are willing to fight for what students need in the classroom and what we need to do our jobs even better.”
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculated that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government cut education funding by $800 per student (adjusted for inflation) over its first term. With two million students in Ontario’s schools, that’s a $1.6 billion cut in funding this year alone – money that should have been used to improve supports for students, increase staffing levels to guarantee services, and raise the wages of education workers.
Education workers served notice to bargain with the Crown and Council of Trustees’ Associations on June 3, the day after the provincial election and the first day they could legally do so. Since the Ford government was re-elected, there were 90 days until the central collective agreement with education workers will expire on August 31. So far, government negotiators have only made themselves available twice: once on June 17, and again 31 days later on July 18.
“Summer is the time to avert classroom upheaval in September,” said Walton. “It’s within premier Doug Ford’s power to avoid more disruption for students this fall. He should direct his negotiators to get a deal done with workers now that pays us well enough so we don’t have to work second jobs and protects kids’ education from harmful service cuts.”
- 55,000 CUPE-OSBCU members work in virtually every job classification in education except for teachers and management. The contributions of every single one of these frontline workers is necessary to students’ success and chronic understaffing threatens schools’ ability to provide everything students need.
- The report Education Workers’ Wages in Ontario: The Impact of Ten Years of Cuts released this spring found that education workers are the lowest-paid in the sector, earning on average only $39,000 per year. Frontline education workers are mostly women, 51.4% work more than one job, many get laid off every summer and must rely on unemployment insurance if they can even qualify.
- The past decade has seen education workers’ wages fall substantially below inflation. This is because of legislative interference with free collective bargaining that used the power of the state to limit wage improvements for the lowest-paid employees in the education sector. Bill 115 under the previous Liberal government froze wages for two years. Bill 124 during this Progressive Conservative government’s first term imposed a strict limit of 1% increases per year for three years, even though all evidence pointed to the fact that this would be lower than inflation and was lower than the trends for other unionized sectors of the economy.
- The result of attacks on education workers’ wages and collective bargaining rights has been wage settlements from 2012-2021 that equal 8.8% (compounded) while inflation to the end of 2021 has totaled 19.5%. With inflation well over 7% in 2022 this will jump to a 17% wage cut for education workers.
- In July, the non-partisan Financial Accountability Office of Ontario found, in it’s FAO Expenditure Monitor 2021-22: Q4, that the Ford government cut nearly $1 billion from education last year compared to the year before. Despite glossy reannouncements that showcase privatization through tutoring as a distraction for policy failures, this provincial government actually spent $902 million less on education in 2021-2022 than it did in 2020-2021. This real 2.7% cut in funding was a choice premier Doug Ford and education minister Stephen Lecce made knowing that enrollment and inflation were increasing.