The day after a provincial election that saw Premier Doug Ford unequivocally assure workers “I’ll always have their backs” and repeatedly promise to “get it done,” and 90 days before the start of the next school year, 55,000 frontline education workers across Ontario are holding him to his word as they serve notice to bargain.
“Now is the time to avert classroom upheaval in September,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU). “CUPE education workers are ready to negotiate a contract that protects and expands services for students while raising wages for the lowest paid workers in the education system.”
“It’s within the re-elected premier’s power to avoid more disruption for students this fall,” observed Walton. “He should direct his negotiators to sit down with us right away to hammer out a deal that puts students and workers first.”
Years of systemic and structural underfunding by this Conservative government, and the Liberal government before it, have resulted in understaffing and unsustainably low wages for education workers. The workers’ bargaining demands, if met, would fix these systemic problems to meet students’ needs as well as create good jobs for education workers – twin goals that will benefit all communities throughout the province.
“Custodians need to know there’ll be enough of them to fight the next wave of COVID-19. Clerical Workers go in early and stay late – working unpaid time – to protect students’ safety and ensure smooth operation of our schools. Educational Assistants see that more of them have to be hired to provide the one-on-one supports that students need and parents demand. Early Childhood Educators must be in every kindergarten classroom to give our youngest students the hands-on experiences that four- and five-year-olds crave,” Walton explained.
“It wasn’t lost on the predominantly female school workers that Premier Ford has been focused on jobs in the private sector,” said Walton. “We’re reminding him that we make this province run and we’re done with disrespectful cuts that are driving education workers away.”
“Whether schools across the province are provided enough money to stop damaging cuts is a political choice made by our elected representatives,” said Walton. “Ontario is the richest province in Canada and the money controlled by only 59 billionaires has increased by more than $100 billion during the pandemic. There’s no excuse for this government to skimp on our children’s future.”
- 55,000 frontline education workers are serving notice to bargain with the Ontario government and Council of Trustees’ Associations. Notice to bargain centrally given by CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions to the Council of Trustees’ Associations also serves as notice to bargain locally with 63 English and French-language public and Catholic school boards.
- The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculates that the Ford 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 translates into a $1.6 billion cut in funding in the 2021-2022 school year – money that could be used to improve supports for students, increase staffing levels, and raise the wages of education workers.
- Education workers deserve a raise. The past decade has seen education workers’ wages fall substantially below inflation. In no small part 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 under the current Progressive Conservative government 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 these 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 6% in 2022 this will jump to a 17% wage cut for education workers. This gap between wage increases and inflation has been imposed on workers who are necessary to the proper functioning of the education system – the people who provide vital direct and indirect services to students so students’ schools work for them. Wage restraint has been imposed on workers, 84.2% of whom earn less than $50,000 a year, and 96.6% earn less than $60,000 per year.