Ontario education workers to begin work-to-rule after negotiations break off

Some 55,000 education workers in Ontario are set to embark on work-to-rule on Monday after ​​​​​​​last-minute contract talks failed to reach a deal.

Decision on legal strike position comes at the end of 2 days of last-minute contract talks

Contract talks between CUPE, the Ontario government and the Council of Trustees' Associations have broken down and education workers are set to embark on a work-to-rule campaign. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Some 55,000 education workers from across 63 school boards in Ontario are set to embark on work-to-rule on Monday after last-minute contract talks failed to reach a deal.

The decision on a legal strike position comes at the end of two days of last-minute contract talks between CUPE, the province and the Council of Trustees' Associations in an effort to avoid a work-to-rule campaign.

The workers taking part in the job action are support staff including clerical staff, custodians, educational assistants, early childhood educators and more. 

"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," Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in a statement Sunday evening.

Lecce said the government and the employers tabled a reasonable offer and expanded their offer through the negotiations with one interest in mind — landing a deal that keeps kids in class. 

"We have offered proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.  A key issue that remains is resolving rising absenteeism rates, and the impact that has on students and schools," Lecce said.

President of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions Laura Walton told CBC News those proposals aren't enough. The union walked away from the table because the sides are just too far apart, Walton said, adding that the job action won't put student safety at risk. 

"When you're not able to provide language that ensures that boards do not have unlimited power to cut jobs, then we have a problem. Now it becomes just a stop gap measure instead of addressing the real need, which is minimum standards of services within our schools."

CUPE demanding a better deal

The Toronto District School Board says that while principals and vice-principals will have heavier workload, things will continue as normal for now.

"We don't think that students will see or notice a big difference right off the bat. As the partial withdrawal of services continues though, it may have a more significant impact on school activities, permits, and operations," said spokesperson Ryan Bird. 

The Education Minister said the government and the Council of Trustees' Associations (CTA) have been and will continue to negotiate in good faith, and 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," Lecce said.

Late last week CUPE, which has been demanding a better deal for its members — who earn an average of $38,000 per year — formally submitted notice, putting it in a legal strike position as of Monday, Sept. 30.

CUPE is just one of the unions that have been locked in talks with Doug Ford's PC government.

So far, none has been able to reach a deal, raising concern that a widespread school strike could happen this fall.

Lecce has repeatedly said the government is committed to reaching a deal that provides stability for workers, parents and students alike.

"During this period of job action, student safety will remain the utmost priority — a position I know we all share," Lecce said.

"We stand with parents working to protect our students' futures, invest in their potential and ensure they remain in the classroom."

All sides want to return to the bargaining table, but there's no word yet on when that might happen.