Over the weekend more than 250 education workers, representing their 55,000 coworkers across the province, met to reconfirm their commitment to fight for decent wages, increased services for students, and a reinvestment in public education after a decade of government cuts to education funding.

During the conference, delegates unanimously endorsed the OSBCU bargaining team’s recommendation to call for a strike vote as a demonstration of workers’ resolve to achieve their reasonable, necessary, and affordable proposals for improving working and learning conditions in Ontario’s schools in the face of high inflation and a callously disrespectful offer from the Ford government.

Education workers’ Proposals for Student Success and Good Jobs, if accepted, would:

  1. Guarantee increased services for students;
  2. Protect service levels against cuts;
  3. Help solve school boards’ problems retaining and recruiting workers; and
  4. Increase government funding for children’s education after 10 years of real cuts.

CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick attended the meeting and spoke to the importance of negotiating wage and staffing increases in light of years of government enforced wage stagnation and soaring inflation rates. “Our members can’t afford to lose any more purchasing power. Our members—especially those at the bottom end of the pay scale—need a major wage boost up,” Rennick said. “Our members can’t keep working in harmful conditions caused by chronic underfunding and inadequate staffing levels.”

In September and October 2021 CUPE-OSBCU education workers completed a survey on how being paid low wages affects their lives. 51.4% of respondents said they had to work at least one additional job to make ends meet. 91% said they have faced at least one form of financial hardship because of their low wages. 60% are laid off every summer with the majority needing unemployment insurance to survive (even in the best case, EI only replaces 55% of eligible earnings).

41% have been late making a bill payment because their wages are insufficient to meet their needs. 24% confirmed struggling to pay for gas or public transit (before the recent spike in gas prices). 27% of respondents reported having to cut back on food (also before the explosion of inflation in 2022).

OSBCU President Laura Walton reiterated that a strike vote, while not a guarantee that education workers will withdraw their labour, should be a signal to the provincial government and school boards that the status quo and concessions are not what students, Ontario families, or workers deserve.

Walton summarized what OSBCU members are prepared to strike for “We’re fighting for enough library workers to make sure school libraries are open and reading opportunities are available to kids all the time.

We’re fighting for every four- and five-year-old to get the play-based learning support that’s so necessary, support that would come from having an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom.

We’re fighting for adequate staffing of secretaries in school offices and enough lunchroom supervisors to keep students safe.

We’re fighting for more custodians, maintenance workers, and tradespeople to keep your schools clean and begin to tackle the 16.3 billion dollar repair backlog.”

Strike votes for OSBCU members across Ontario will take place from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2.