The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Doug Ford government “will spend all weekend at the table” trying to strike a deal that would avert another strike, CUPE’s central bargaining committee said in a statement on Thursday, Nov. 17.
“We urge the government to return with the earnest intention of reaching a fair deal for students, families, and workers,” the statement reads.
CUPE added that both parties have agreed to a deadline of 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20 “so we can provide parents and caregivers as much notice as possible.”
CUPE announced Wednesday that it filed a five-day strike notice after talks with the province broke down once more.
CUPE did say the two sides have been able to reach a middle ground when it came to pay.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce spoke to Breakfast Television on Thursday morning and expressed skepticism that wages were not still the real issue in talks stalling.
“We were with the mediator two days ago and the only fundamental issue was wages,” Lecce says. “It’s been entirely about wages and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.”
CUPE says the latest offer from the government includes a flat rate annual wage increase of 3.59 per cent for all workers, a number the union says they are willing to accept.
Lecce says the wage agreement would be $335 million over four years, and the province has not asked for any concessions in return. He says each time the province agrees to a demand the union comes up with a new one.
“We’ve literally moved on every ask,” he says.
Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU), said Wednesday “it was never just about wages” for the workers.
“A wage increase doesn’t help if you’re going to lose your job. A wage increase isn’t going to help when you have school boards that are finding ways to get rid of people. A wage increase isn’t going to help if your hours get cut,” she said.
The union has asked for higher staffing levels for educational assistants, librarians, custodians, and secretaries and has specifically stated they want an early childhood educator (ECE) put in every kindergarten classroom in the province.
The education minister could not say if the province could commit to an ECE in each class when asked on Thursday, only saying the government is committed to “increasing staffing in schools.”
He says the province would provide funding to increase staffing levels by 1,800 workers as part of their latest offer.
Walton took to Twitter on Wednesday evening and refuted this claim.
“We were told there was no new money for the services that students desperately need,” reads Walton’s tweet. “So which is it?”