Mark Hancock addresses OSBCU membersReacting to wrenching reports of classroom violence, pressures created by understaffing, and the human cost of low wages and precarious work, school board leaders from CUPE have determined that better wages and working conditions for education workers will be the focus of their next round of central negotiations in 2022.

The decision was taken by some 170 delegates over the weekend at a meeting hosted by CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which bargains a central collective agreement on behalf of 55,000 education workers in the province.

“Conditions for education workers are directly tied to the quality of supports and services for students in schools,” said OSBCU President Laura Walton, “and right now, everyone is getting short-changed. We’re in a crisis and we will use the power of our collective bargaining to help find a way out.”

Earning on average $39,000 a year, education workers are the lowest paid workers in the education system, “yet we’ve carried some of the heaviest loads in schools during the pandemic,” said Walton.

“Even at the height of COVID, when schools were closed across the province, we were on site supporting students with special needs and making schools safe. The levels of violence we face in the workplace have been described as epidemic. People are leaving our sector in droves and boards can’t recruit and retain staff who will work under these conditions or for the money these jobs pay. The next round of central bargaining is our chance to change the picture.”

The weekend’s meeting got underway with addresses from CUPE National President Mark Hancock and Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick, and CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn and Secretary-Treasurer Yolanda McClean. They all pledged their personal support, as well as the union’s, for OSBCU and CUPE school board locals in the upcoming round of central bargaining. NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles MPP was also on hand to tell conference delegates that Ontario’s New Democrats were behind workers in their struggle for better wages and better education services.

CUPE school board leaders were also inspired by the example of their counterparts in New Brunswick, where in November more than 20,000 CUPE members were involved in a province-wide strike for wage improvements that were above the cost of living.

“Our comrades in New Brunswick have shown us how we can win by putting workers’ wages and conditions at the heart of our bargaining priorities, and ensure high-quality services at the same time,” said Laura Walton.

In mid-2022, CUPE/OSBCU expects to begin the next round of central bargaining with the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) and the provincial government for a new central agreement on wages, benefits, leave, working conditions, training and job security. At the same time, approximately 70 CUPE school board locals will bargain for new local collective agreements with their school boards.