The union representing 55,000 school support staff say they will return to the bargaining table this weekend, but will stick with plans for a work-to-rule that begins Monday if no deal is reached.
The school board unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a statement to be issued Wednesday morning, said they are providing the required five-days notice of the impending job action that will hit 63 school boards — but also that they had accepted an offer to resume negotiations.
“We’ve always said that any job action we take will have at its heart the protection of education services for students,” said Laura Walton, who is president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
“And this year we’ve seen those services decimated: school libraries closed over students’ lunch breaks because there aren’t enough library workers; school cleaning cut to the point that custodians are told they can only vacuum kindergarten classrooms once a week; eight or nine students with special needs now supported by a single education assistant; communications with parents affected because some schools have lost their school secretaries.”
“If it takes job action to restore these services, then so be it. This is something worth fighting for.”
CUPE, the province and Council of Trustees’ Associations are now set to meet Saturday and Sunday but Walton said if talks are unsuccessful, the job action will proceed as planned.
The union represents school custodians, office staff, educational assistants, among others, who earn an average of $38,000 a year.
Their numbers have taken a hit as some boards struggled to balance their budgets, including in Toronto where almost 300 support staff jobs were axed.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has repeatedly said that the Ford government “remains focused on keeping kids in the classroom and delivering a deal that gives students and parents predictability and certainty.”
He had also been urging CUPE to get back to the negotiating table.
The province continues to bargain with all other education unions.
On Tuesday, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation took the unusual step of announcing it would post online all of its contract proposals, costs and updates, in a bid to be open and transparent with its members, and the public.
The Ford government is increasing high school class sizes from an average of 22 to 28 over the next four years, phasing out thousands of teaching positions.
Lecce has told the union that if it can find savings elsewhere, plans to boost class sizes could be staved off.
Get The Lead newsletter
Start getting your whip-smart guide to Canada’s 2019 federal election in your inbox.
It is unclear if the province will follow suit and go public with its proposals.
In Saskatchewan, where teacher unions are also engaging in “open” bargaining, the government there recently announced it would also do so.