Ontario education workers to strike 'until further notice' as Lecce says talks won't proceed
Workers plan to walk off the job Friday, despite looming legislation that would make it illegal
A union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers says a strike it is planning on Friday will continue "until further notice."
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has said the workers, such as early childhood educators, educational assistants and custodians, would walk off the job Friday despite looming legislation that would make striking illegal.
Until now, the union hadn't said if it planned a one-day job action or a more prolonged strike, but on Wednesday Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said workers would be on strike indefinitely.
CUPE gave the government a counter offer late Tuesday, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday that he won't negotiate those proposals unless the union cancels its plans to strike.
"Without anything changing, we are on strike until further notice starting Friday, unless a deal is reached," Walton said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Walton said the "regressive legislation" at Queen's Park is interfering with the bargaining process.
She said parents should be "making arrangements" for their children Friday, adding that CUPE will proceed with a strike until a deal is reached.
WATCH | Union on latest developments in talks with government:
Ontario's education minister suggested Wednesday there wouldn't be much movement at the bargaining table despite the union proposing a counter-offer.
The government has said it would return to the table if the mediator asks, and had wanted to hear if the new offer from CUPE was "reasonable." But Lecce said Wednesday any new proposal must include cancelling strike plans.
"Take the threat off the table and let's talk," he said in a news conference.
"We've been very clear. We stand ready to negotiate with any willing partner, but they've got to take the strike off the table on Friday. We will not accept a strike this Friday or any day."
The Ontario government has introduced a bill — and is hoping to pass it this week — to impose a contract on the education workers and ban them from striking upon threat of steep fines.
CUPE negotiators presented a counter-offer late Tuesday night in response to the imposed contract terms in the legislation. The union has not provided details of its new proposal, but Walton said it contained many concessions.
"We have made significant moves in all areas in hopes of reaching a deal while ensuring that workers have good wages, and that students and families have better services," she said.
When contacted by CBC Toronto, Walton said she would not discuss the details of the new proposal because of a confidentiality agreement made with the mediator.
"The government rejected our counter offer," Walton said in an emailed statement.
On Wednesday, the Toronto District School Board said it will close all schools for in-person learning for the duration of the strike after announcing earlier this week it will close on Friday when the walkout is set to begin.
Some 16 NDP members kicked out of chamber
Ontario's opposition parties have roundly condemned the legislation and more than a dozen New Democrat members got themselves kicked out of question period in protest on Wednesday, either by using unparliamentary language or refusing to come to order. The move was not expected to have an effect on the debate of the bill.
Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns was kicked out of question period Wednesday after asking when Ontario Premier Doug Ford would stop lying, then refusing to withdraw the comment when asked to by Speaker Ted Arnott.
WATCH | Several members of the NDP kicked out of the chamber:
Meanwhile, the government filed motions Wednesday to skip committees and sit until midnight if needed.
CUPE says its workers are generally the lowest paid
The government originally offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but Lecce said the new, imposed four-year deal would give 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.
CUPE has said its workers, which make on average $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and had been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent.
WATCH | Ontario plans to stop education workers' strike with notwithstanding clause:
The union's original proposal also included overtime at two times the regular pay rate, 30 minutes of paid prep time per day for educational assistants and ECEs, an increase in benefits and professional development for all workers.
Several other unions, including the teachers' unions currently in bargaining with the government, have expressed solidarity with CUPE.
The most notable example is Labourers' International Union of North America — LiUNA — which endorsed Ford's Progressive Conservatives in the spring election.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the federal justice and labour ministers, have criticized the Ontario government for preemptively including the Constitution's notwithstanding clause in the legislation, saying it shouldn't be used to suspend workers' rights.
The clause allows the legislature to override portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year term.
The Prime Minister's Office said Trudeau spoke with Ford by telephone on Wednesday.
"[Trudeau] was clear that the preemptive use of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' notwithstanding clause is wrong and inappropriate, and should only ever be used in the most exceptional of circumstances," the PMO said in a statement.
The premier's office said Ford made clear in the call that closing classrooms would have an "unacceptable impact on students who are already struggling after two years of pandemic disruption."
The provincial government government hopes to see its bill passed this week, with Ford saying he will do everything he can to make sure kids stay in class.
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp