What CUPE's deal means for Ontario's teacher negotiations

With the CUPE negotiations completed, experts watching Ontario's education system labour negotiations say teacher unions could learn a thing or two from their colleagues as they sit down this month with school boards and the province.
Thousands of teachers, parents and students have protested the Ford government's changes to Ontario's education system. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

With the CUPE negotiations completed, experts watching education system labour negotiations in Ontario say teacher unions could learn a thing or two from their colleagues as they sit down this month with school boards and the province. 

Teachers and school support staff across the province started the school year with expired contracts. Support workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) averted a strike last weekend with an 11th hour contract agreement with the province.

However, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary Students Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) have yet to negotiate a deal. 

Only the ETFO has gotten as far beginning to take a strike vote among members; teachers are being asked if they want to take job action if negotiations stall. The vote, being held at different times in different regions, continues until the end of the month.

"CUPE accelerated the process — they held their strike vote quite quickly, then went work to rule then upped the ante with the strike — they're moving really fast ," said Marvin Ryder, an associate professor at McMaster's DeGroote School of Business.

"Now the question is, will the others accelerate their timeline?" which may set the tone for negotiations to come, said Ryder. 

The full details of the CUPE agreement won't be made public until members vote to accept the deal. 

The union made some of the details public Sunday night: Workers will get a one per cent increase each year for the duration of the three-year contract, a $20M local priorities fund that will restore up to 1000 jobs, and no changes to worker's sick day benefits, something that was "unthinkable" a week ago, said Ryder. 

What happens with one school union, historically, has affected the others, former OSSTF president Earl Manners told CBC News. 

Federal election issue? 

"Salary and benefit issues have been something that has been closely tied in the past," said Manners. "The issue of sick leave -- the [CUPE] program is identical for teachers and support staff."

"Job security is an issue for CUPE — for teachers it would be class size that would be a factor and that is a different issue, though they are related," said Manners.

That could be an advantage for the teacher and support staff unions, said Ryder, with Premier Doug Ford trying to keep a low profile during the federal election campaign. 

Ryder believes the accelerated time line played a part. "On Monday CUPE was just a work-to-rule campaign, 'we're just going to do the minimum', and by Thursday suddenly we were going to have a strike," said Ryder.

"And I think they did that thinking Doug Ford would take a hard line and then would be dragged kicking and screaming out of hibernation and go front and centre, which could have had an effect on the federal election," Ryder said.

About the Author

Jackie Sharkey

Associate Producer, CBC KW

Jackie Sharkey has worked all over the country with the CBC over the past decade, including Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU. She frequently reports on the arts and is particularly interested in stories where consumer and environmental issues intersect.


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