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Ontario education workers' union takes step toward strike

TORONTO — A union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers — such as custodians, librarians and early childhood educators — said Friday it has requested what's known as a "no board" report, which could put them in a legal strike position in unde
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Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce speaks with media following the Speech from the Throne at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. A union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers such as custodians, librarians and early childhood educators says it has reached an impasse in bargaining with the government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

TORONTO — A union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers — such as custodians, librarians and early childhood educators — said Friday it has requested what's known as a "no board" report, which could put them in a legal strike position in under three weeks.

Two days of talks between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the government followed the union's membership returning a 96.5 per cent strike mandate in a recent vote. CUPE had hoped that would move the needle at the table, but the union said Friday that it was at an impasse.

"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, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions.

"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."

If the conciliator issues a "no board" report, a decision that usually takes a couple of days, it sets a 17-day countdown to the union being in a legal strike position.

Walton has not indicated if education workers would engage in a full strike, start with a work-to-rule campaign, or take some other course of action at that point.

CUPE is looking for annual increases of 11.7 per cent and the government in response has offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all other workers.

There are two more days of talks scheduled this month — Oct. 17 and 18.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is at the table ready to reach a fair deal, and he has called CUPE's demands unreasonable.

"After being back in school for a month, catching up on their learning, I can’t imagine parents and kids are sitting down this weekend giving thanks to education unions’ relentless pursuit of classroom disruptions," he wrote in a statement.

Lecce also wrote that the government "will ensure children remain in class. Period." That echoes a line-in-the-sand sentiment from Ontario Premier Doug Ford earlier this week. When asked about the use of back-to-work legislation in the event of a CUPE strike, Ford told education workers: "Don't force my hand."

The four major teachers' unions are at various stages of bargaining with the government, after their contracts expired Aug. 31.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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