Province ‘singularly focused’ on education deal – minister

North Bay Nugget

CUPE school support workers in legal strike position Sept. 30

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks at the Kinoomaadziwin Education Body on Nipissing First Nation, Tuesday. Michael Lee/The Nugget

NIPISSING FIRST NATION — Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he remains “undeterred” from his mission to get a deal with the province’s school support workers after their union announced this week that they had voted in favour of potential strike action.

Speaking to reporters following the announcement Tuesday of greater school choice for First Nation students in Ontario, Lecce said he is disappointed in the decision by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to adopt a strike mandate.

The union, which represents 55,000 education workers in Ontario, held strike votes between late August and Sept. 15, with 93 per cent of its members voting in favour of job action.

The parties are scheduled to continue bargaining today and Wednesday. CUPE will be in a legal strike position as of Sept. 30.

Lecce said he has been negotiating in good faith, as did his predecessor former education minister Lisa Thompson, with the government even starting negotiations in an “unprecedented early fashion” to incentivize the support worker and teacher unions on getting a deal.

“I think our kids deserve that and our parents in the province — north, south, east and west — they deserve predictability, and so my message to parents is that the government, the premier, every one of us stands on their side in getting a deal,” he said.

“We want a deal. That is the singular mission of the government and so not withstanding the ebb and flow — and these types of votes will happen and could happen with other unions — it’s nothing to be concerned with. It’s part of the normal course of this process.

“What I think should give parents a sense of peace is the singular focus we have on getting a deal to keep their children in the classrooms in Ontario.”

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In a statement released this week by CUPE Ontario, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions Laura Walton accused the provincial government of hurting families, students and workers with cuts to education.

The council is the central bargaining agent for CUPE’s education workers, representing education assistants, school library workers, administrative assistants, custodians and tradespeople, early childhood educators, instructors, nutrition service workers, school safety monitors and social workers.

“Our plan for job action is about standing up for students and protecting the services that CUPE education workers deliver across the province,” Walton said, adding that they will continue to do everything they can to avoid a labour disruption.

She said members have been reaching out to parents, families and supporters for months and that they all share the same goals, including having more education assistants and early childhood educators, enough custodians, and not having long wait lists for school board psychologists, child and youth workers, or social workers.

“If it takes job action to defend high-quality, well-supported and well-rounded public education, then CUPE education workers are ready.”

Contracts for Ontario’s public school teachers and education workers expired Aug. 31.

CUPE had requested a “no-board report” earlier this month, which allows for legal labour action after a specified waiting period.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario also plans to hold a strike vote in the coming weeks, while the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has gone to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to determine which issues should be bargained centrally and which should be dealt with locally.

Negotiations are taking place as the province plans to increase average class sizes in high schools from 22 to 28 and from 23 to 24 for grades 4 to 8, resulting in 3,475 fewer teachers over four years as staff quit or retire.

With files from The Canadian Press

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