Ottawa

Education workers begin work-to-rule in Ottawa area

Hundreds of Ottawa-area school support workers are set to stop participating in extracurricular activities Monday morning as part of a work-to-rule campaign after weekend contract talks failed to reach a deal.

Contract talks broke down Sunday, province said

Hundreds of education support workers in the Ottawa area could soon stop leading sports practices and tutoring sessions and other outside-the-classroom activities if they can't agree to a new contract this weekend. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Hundreds of Ottawa-area school support workers are set to stop participating in extracurricular activities Monday morning as part of a work-to-rule campaign after weekend contract talks failed to reach a deal.

Bargaining between unions representing Ontario's education workers, the government of Premier Doug Ford and school boards had been taking place throughout the weekend.

The province said late Sunday afternoon, however, that talks with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had broken down.

CUPE had said that while its workers were hoping to strike a deal, if the contract talks didn't pan out, a work-to-rule campaign would begin Monday. The union says job security and wages are key issues in the negotiations.

Work-to-rule means staff will only do tasks they're explicitly required to do. Office staff won't supervise students, and education assistants will refuse to be left in classrooms without a teacher present.

There are about 55,000 school support staff in Ontario. They include clerical staff, school custodians and educational assistants. 

Student safety won't be compromised, says union

"It's become harder and harder to do more with less," said Sherry Wallace, a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357.

The local represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

"It used to be one educational assistant [for] sometimes to two three students, max. We're now looking at, sometimes, it's one educational assistant [for] five to seven," Wallace said.

Even if its members begin work-to-rule Monday, they won't compromise the safety of any students, Wallace pledged.

Sherry Wallace is a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357, which represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

'This is very challenging'

Under work-to-rule, staff won't take on extra activities for students — like leading choir practices, for example, or organizing sports — on their breaks or after school, Wallace said.

"We wouldn't be staying later, volunteering and doing the extra things that we have been doing and essentially [have been] taken for granted, unfortunately," she said.

For the Catholic board, all school support workers aside from custodial staff could begin reducing their workload Monday. That includes educational assistants, early childhood educators, sign language interpreters, developmental education staff, clerical staff, library technicians and some technical and central administrative staff.

"They are scared, and for so many reasons. Mostly because they don't want this to look badly on them. So that's the biggest fear," Wallace said.

"They love, they're very passionate about what they do. This is very challenging for them."  

Government focused on reaching deal 

The Ford government has said it's focused on reaching a deal that keeps kids in the classroom. 

"It is deeply disappointing that CUPE has decided to end talks this weekend, and proceed with a partial withdrawal of services, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table," said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce in a statement Sunday.

Lecce said the province offered proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.

"We remain fully committed to resuming discussions with CUPE to reach an agreement quickly to provide predictability to parents and students. On my direction, through our mediator, we have asked for additional bargaining dates to bring everyone back to the table so that we can ensure our kids remain in class," said Lecce. 

In a statement Sunday evening, Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the "other side pushed matters to the brink" despite having it within their power to reach "a fair deal" for students.

"Parents, teachers and communities can be assured that no CUPE member will ever do anything to make a school unsafe or put any student at any risk," Walton said. "As always, CUPE members will exercise their professional judgment when it comes to the health and safety of students."

French boards, English Catholic board affected

For the French public school board in Ottawa, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, custodial and clerical staff, library technicians and IT employees would be working to rule. The support staff for students and teachers inside the classroom are under a different union and wouldn't be working to rule.

For the French Catholic school board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, only custodial staff would be working to rule.

The Catholic board's other high schools, administrative offices, Académie catholique Notre-Dame, Éducation Permanente, and the Centre professionnel et technique Minto will not be affected by a work-to-rule campaign.

No support workers with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are unionized under CUPE.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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