Ontario education workers including librarians, custodians and administrative staff could walk off the job as early as October, after their union set a strike vote.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 workers, will open voting for members from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2 on whether to set a strike mandate. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has criticized the move as premature, as CUPE began planning for the votes before the government’s first offer was tabled.
Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said holding a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean that workers will withdraw services, but it’s part of the process to show the government they are prepared to fight for workers and public education.
“Minister Lecce is acting like a schoolyard bully again, picking on Ontario’s lowest-paid education workers,” she said at a news conference Monday.
“It’s disrespectful and it must stop. Education workers holding strike votes is about workers understanding and using our collective power to win long overdue gains for students, Ontario’s families and each other.”
When it comes to wages, CUPE is looking for annual increases of 11.7 per cent, while the government has offered two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for everyone else.
Lecce said parents don’t want any more disruptions to the school year.
“I think parents are tired every three years in this province, in some form, with every premier in the chair – Liberal, New Democrat, Conservative. In my entire life, 35 years on Earth, the one commonality is that parents and their children have had to pay for these types of escalation attempts that only hurt kids,” he told reporters Monday.
The government has noted that CUPE is also asking for five additional paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of paid preparation time each day, and increasing overtime pay from a multiplier of 1.5 to 2.
Walton said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker making $39,000.
CUPE and other unions have said they are pressing for increases to both compensate for their last contracts being subject to a legislative cap of one per cent a year – known as Bill 124 – as well as to address inflation, which is running at over seven per cent. Deals for the five major education unions expire Aug 31.
CUPE and the government have bargaining dates this Friday as well as three more dates in September, and Walton said there is still plenty of time for the government to come with a better offer.