Toronto

CUPE education workers trigger countdown for potential legal strike

Some 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are expected to be in a legal position to strike later this month.

The request starts a 17-day countdown to possible job action

CUPE represents education workers across Ontario, including instructors of subjects such as languages, arts and music. (Brenna Owen/CBC)

Some 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are expected to be in a legal position to strike later this month.

The union announced Thursday afternoon that 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 expects the period to last until the week of September 23, at which point union members will be able to lawfully begin job action.

"We will always ensure that we are giving parents proper notice," said Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which is a chartered body within CUPE.

"We have the best intentions, and we do not want to be heading towards withdrawal of services."

In a previous announcement, the union suggested that job action could take the form of work-to-rule, rotating strikes, or a full strike.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in a statement that he is disappointed that CUPE has decided to take this action.

"We continue to call on all parties to reach a deal in good faith, as soon as possible, to provide confidence and predictability to parents, students, and educators alike." 

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce says he is 'committed to keeping students in the classroom.' (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Lecce did say he was pleased an agreement has been reached between the union and the school boards to appoint a mediator to try to reach a deal.

"My team is ready to continue meeting to negotiate a deal that puts our students first and provides the predictability our parents deserve."

Walton told CBC News that a key issue stalling negotiations is a local priorities fund that was negotiated in 2016. That fund provided a pocket of money that went towards hiring for positions like educational assistants, custodians and clerical staff. 

"Unfortunately, this government decided to cut those funds in May, and so those positions were cut," she said.

"We were told this would be a topic of conversation at the bargaining table, but to date we haven't seen it."

The union also represents school secretaries, social workers, child and youth workers and some instructors for music, arts and languages.

CUPE is demanding a better deal for its members, who earn an average of $38,000 per year, according to the union.

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