Ontario’s lowest-paid education workers remain united in their fight for student success and good jobs.
Education workers’ central bargaining committee returned to the table last week expecting to see movement that would address the workers’ twin goals of better pay and better services.
On Monday, the results of education workers’ historic strike vote revealed 45,433 out of 55,000 frontline CUPE education workers cast ballots, and 43,821 – an overwhelming 96.5% – voted “yes” to send a strong message to the Ford government:
• Education cuts are not acceptable.
• More frontline staff are urgently needed in schools for students to succeed.
• It’s time for a significant pay increase.
“We’ve been at the table for two more days waiting for the government and school boards to come back with a reasonable offer, but they refused,” said Laura Walton, educational assistant and president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU). “They did not make a single move on key issues. As a result, we have been pushed into a position where we need to request a no board report and up the pressure to reach a negotiated settlement.”
“They still have an opportunity to come back and be reasonable,” Walton noted. “We are calling on trustees and the Ford government to provide us with more negotiation dates and to put real improvements on the table. We’re here to get a negotiated agreement that responds to the needs of students and frontline workers.”
“Education workers need a significant wage increase, and we deserve it,” Walton said. “Students and parents deserve guarantees of service levels and improved staffing in schools. The Ontario public supports both of these proposals – proposals for student success and good jobs that education workers are putting forward.”
“As premier of Canada’s richest province, Doug Ford has the power and resources to accept our reasonable, necessary, and affordable proposals today,” added Walton. “If he does that, the lowest-paid education workers who are paid on average only $39,000 a year won’t have to strike to make ends meet and to defend services for students from Ford’s cuts.”
What is a ‘no board?’ According to the Ministry of Labour website, if the union and the employer don’t reach an agreement during conciliation, the conciliation officer reports the outcome to the Minister of Labour and the minister will send a written notice to the parties. Typically, this notice will say that a board of conciliation will not be appointed. This is commonly known as a “no-board” report. After the minister sends the notice, the union and the employer continue to have a duty to bargain in good faith and attempt to reach an agreement.
More than 70% of Ontario’s 55,000 frontline education workers are women. More than half work at least one additional job to make ends meet and 60% are laid off every summer.
Education workers are bargaining for guarantees of:
- enough educational assistants so all students would 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.
From 2012 to 2021, the lowest-paid education workers have already taken an 11% wage cut.
According to a Financial Accountability Office report published last week, education workers stand to lose another 11.3%, meaning the Ford government’s policies will amount to the lowest-paid education workers taking a 22% wage cut over a 13-year period.
Workers’ wage proposal is an increase of $3.25 per hour each year in a three-year collective agreement. The Ford government’s offer was just 33¢ to 53¢ an hour – the equivalent of the cost of less than one tank of gas per month.