After getting an imposed contract that would have further harmed Ontario schools off their backs with the repeal of Bill 28, Ontario’s lowest-paid education workers have given five days’ notice of a potential province-wide strike.
CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) central bargaining committee, negotiating for 55,000 frontline education workers, was able to reach a middle ground with the Ford government and the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) on wages. Despite that progress, the government refused to invest in the services that students need and parents expect, precipitating this escalation.
“From the beginning, we’ve been focused on improved jobs for education workers and improved services for students. For us, there is no one without the other,” said Laura Walton, educational assistant and president of CUPE-OSBCU. “It’s incredibly disappointing that the Ford government categorically refused to put money on the table to give students the type of learning environment they need.”
Ontario students are dealing with significant learning loss from the pandemic. Students with special needs, in particular, have struggled with access and equity.
“If this government was serious about their plan to catch up, they’d listen to the workers who do the most to support learners and they’d put an early childhood educator in every kindergarten class and provide more students with the direct support of an educational assistant,” said Walton. “We’ve heard from parents desperate for these improvements. We felt their support at our protests across the province. And we’re not going to turn our backs on students, parents, and families.”
The OSBCU’s central bargaining committee has been negotiating for 167 days with proposals crafted from input by families.
“Families are in crisis and for most parents, school is the only refuge for their children. Without proper support, children with special needs are not able to access the curriculum and their safety is at risk,” explained Angela Brandt, President of the Ontario Autism Coalition. “Children with autism and special education needs require additional support. They need educational assistants in the classroom. The value of these workers is priceless. Without these frontline education workers, our children may not be able to attend school at all.”
“This is not where we wanted to be,” said Walton. “We hoped the Ford government would accept our reasonable, affordable, and necessary proposals five months ago. We hoped they’d recognize the urgency of workers’ plea for resources in our historic strike vote. We hoped they’d respond to last week’s show of parent and worker solidarity. Yet they came back without a single cent for students. They’ve left us no choice.”
The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act requires that workers employed by school boards give five days’ notice before beginning a job action. Today’s notice from education workers means a strike is possible starting on Monday, November 21 if the Ford government doesn’t get a deal done.
Education workers are fighting for guarantees of:
- enough educational assistants so all students get the supports they need and so schools could stop sending kids home because there isn’t an EA available;
- an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom so every four- and five-year-old would get the play-based learning support that’s especially necessary now after two years of pandemic isolation;
- enough library workers to make sure school libraries are open and reading opportunities are available to kids all the time;
- enough custodians to keep schools clean and enough maintenance workers and tradespeople to begin to tackle the $16 billion repair backlog; and
- adequate staffing of secretaries in school offices and enough lunchroom supervisors to keep students safe.
The Ford government cut education funding by at least $800 per student over its first term. With two million students in Ontario’s schools, that amounted to a $1.6 billion cut in funding last year alone.