Province working 'around the clock' on negotiations with education workers: Lecce

The province is working to keep educational employees like clerical workers, custodians and educational assistants on the job, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says.

Union reps say they don't want to be on strike, but can't stomach more cuts

Members of local unions that represent educational employees, including clerical, custodial and educational assistants, stand in front of JW Gerth Public School in Kitchener on Monday morning. Inside, Education Minister Stephen Lecce was making an announcement requiring school boards to develop a policy for students with service animals. The people demonstrating say they don't oppose that announcement, but they are concerned funding cuts will impact workers and, in turn, students. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Negotiations with educational employees are underway and Ontario's education minister says they're doing everything they can to prevent a strike.

Last week, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) announced it will request a "no-board" notice, which starts a 17-day countdown to possible job action across Ontario for public, Catholic, French and English school boards.

CUPE represents about 55,000 workers, including custodians, clerical staff and educational assistants.

During an announcement Monday in Kitchener to require school boards to develop policies for students who have service animals, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said ministry staff are "working very hard around the clock in good faith with our union partners, our trustees partners, to land a deal at the end of the day."

He said the ministry sees workers and the unions that represent them as partners, and everyone wants to see "a deal that puts our students first."

"Obviously, as you know, it does take two to tango right. It requires that cooperation from all parties," he said. "But I can assure you from my capacity as the minister, I want predictability. I want children in the class."

'We don't want to be on strike'

On the sidewalk in front of the school, a small group of five local union leaders held signs saying "no cuts to education" and "students matter to us." 

Joanne Delaney-Fraser, president of CUPE Local 2512, said local members "have had enough" of cuts by the province.

"With those cuts, that means our members do have to do double-duties. And that's unsafe. It's unsafe for the workers, it's definitely unsafe for the children," Delaney-Fraser said.

There were cuts in the last two rounds of negotiations, and Delaney-Fraser said there's nothing more the province can cut. She says she wants the province to treat them with respect at the negotiating table.

"We don't want to be on strike. We don't want those children not in class learning," she said.

Jason Martz, president of Waterloo Regional Custodial and Maintenance Association that represents 500 workers locally, said they would like to see an increase in funding for staffing.

"I would say, with these cuts to education this year, when you walk into our buildings, they won't be as clean, they won't be as maintained if these cuts keep going forward, and that really, truly does impact the students," Martz said.

The province is negotiating with five major unions representing teachers and education workers after contracts expired over the Labour Day long weekend.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce was in Kitchener on Monday. He says his government is working 'around the clock' on contract negotiations and he doesn't want any students to miss out on class because of strike action. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


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