Ford says Ontario presenting CUPE with ‘improved’ offer

By Allison Jones
THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Ontario government is presenting an “improved” offer to the union representing 55,000 education workers, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday as bargaining resumed and staff returned to their jobs following a walkout that shut schools.

Doug Ford said he’s glad both sides are at negotiations again, a day after he promised to repeal legislation that imposed contracts on Canadian Union of Public Employees workers and the union agreed to end its job action.

“While I can’t get into details, we’re back at the table with an improved offer, particularly for the lower-income workers,” Ford said during a morning news conference at the legislature.

However, he also cautioned that any agreement with the education workers will affect the four major teachers’ contracts also in bargaining, and increases for CUPE could lead to “tens of billions of dollars” for increases to the teachers.

“That’s money we need for schools, health care, transit, and infrastructure,” Ford said. “It’s money we need for vital services that every hard working people of this province rely on.”

The government had originally offered raises of two per cent a year for CUPE workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, and the four-year deal imposed by the soon-to-be-repealed law gave 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.

CUPE said that framing was not accurate because the raises actually depend on hourly wages and pay scales, so the majority of workers who earn less than $43,000 in a year wouldn’t get 2.5 per cent.

CUPE had originally been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent and said it later tabled a counter offer that cut its wage proposal in half.

Ford disclosed Tuesday that the government had previously offered a higher amount than what was in its original proposed contract, and he was surprised that CUPE didn’t take it.

“I thought we had a deal,” he said. “I was convinced we had a deal and all of a sudden they came back to my office and said, ‘There’s no deal,’ I was floored.”

The CUPE walkout by workers including education assistants, librarians and custodians began Friday, shutting hundreds of schools to in-person learning, and stretched into Monday.

Schools reopened Tuesday after CUPE said its workers would be back on the job following Ford’s promise to rescind the legislation, which also banned strikes and used the notwithstanding clause to guard against constitutional challenges.