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UPDATE: Education workers' union files notice to strike days after resuming talks with province

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the government put forward multiple offers to CUPE since bargaining resumed last week, but the union has rejected each one.
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CUPE members and supporters join a demonstration in the east-end of Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. Ontario is seeking to have a walkout by education workers declared illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and actions by union leaders declared unlawful.

The union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers has once again filed a notice to strike only days after resuming talks with the province.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says they have given five-days notice and will be in a legal position to begin job action on Monday, Nov. 21.

The union says the two sides were able to reach a middle ground on wages as talks resumed, but the government continues to refuse to “invest in the services that students need and parents expect.”

“We don’t abide bullies in the classroom, so I’m not going to allow one at our bargaining table,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU), speaking at a news conference on Wednesday morning.

Walton says education workers will engage in a full strike on Monday if a deal is not reached.

She says the government offered a 3.59 per cent annual raise for workers, a number the union could accept, but she says they could not come to terms on a number of other issues. A government source had said a previous offer presented a 3.5 per cent annual increase for the lowest-paid workers and a closer to 2 per cent increase for higher-paid workers.

“This was never just about wages,” she says.

“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.”

The union is asking for early childhood educators to be in every kindergarten classroom and an increase in educational assistants, library workers, custodians and secretaries in schools.

“This government refused to put a single cent into new student services,” Walton says.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the wage agreement would be $335 million over four years, and the province has not asked for any concessions in return.

“We have put forward multiple improved offers that would have added hundreds of millions of dollars across the spectrum, especially for the lowest income workers,” said Lecce, speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park.

When asked if back-to-work legislation was in the works with another potential work stoppage on the horizon, the education minister would only say the government is focused on getting a deal done.

“The government is going to stay at the table to get a deal,” he said. “That is our obligation. That is our focus.”

Last week, Ford offered to withdraw back-to-work legislation that controversially used the notwithstanding clause if CUPE members returned to work, which they did. The repealing of the bill this week means the union is back in a legal strike position.

The government’s law, which used the notwithstanding clause to guard against constitutional challenges, had set fines for violating the legislation at a maximum of $4,000 per employee per day and up to $500,000 per day for the union.

An unlawful strike application has been withdrawn by the province, meaning members won’t face fines for the two days of walkouts.

"The province has at least a $2 billion surplus," said Joel Harden, member of provincial parliament (MPP) for Ottawa Centre on The Sam Laprade Show on Nov. 16. "These folks have gotten zeros for 10 years and we need to make the investment to make sure these folks who are helping our kids don't use food banks. I don't think $3.25 an hour is to much to ask."

Harden said the group of education workers is proving that they aren't backing down. 

"This is the moment for the male ego to take a bit of a climb down here," he added. "I think the premier and the education minister thought they had the world by the tail with a majority government and they can do whatever they wanted and tell people what they should make. But folks stood up to them."

If a strike does go ahead, it will affect students in the Ottawa Catholic School Board, the Upper Canada District School Board, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario as well as both English language boards in the Renfrew County. 

Listen to the full interview with Joel Harden below:

With files from The Canadian Press. 

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