TDSB to close all schools for in-person learning on Friday as education workers vow to walk off job
Closures are in response to threat by education workers to walk off the job, TDSB says
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it will close all schools for in-person learning on Friday, the same day some 55,000 Ontario education workers are set to walk off the job in a province-wide protest.
On Monday the union representing the workers — the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — said its members will walk off the job Friday, regardless of Ontario's proposed anti-strike legislation, which was tabled Monday and invokes the notwithstanding clause to block job action by the union.
As a result of this announcement, the board will have no option but to close all schools for in-person learning for all students on Friday Nov. 4, the TDSB said in a statement Monday night.
"While we understand that this will be challenging for many families, parents/guardians/caregivers will be required to make alternate arrangements for their children," the statement from the TDSB said.
"This is not a decision that we take lightly and we have explored every possible contingency plan to keep schools open.
"Student supervision and safety are our top priorities and without the important services of these school-based employees, we cannot guarantee that our learning environments will remain safe and clean for all students," it added
Striking workers could face fines of up to $4K per day
At a news conference earlier on Monday, CUPE said education workers will "withdraw their labour" to protest against the move by the province, which they called a "monstrous overreach."
The Ontario government introduced the Keeping Students in Class Act on Monday, which invokes the notwithstanding clause to impose a contract on education workers and avert a strike. The clause — or Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability, through the passage of a law, to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year term.
Education workers could face fines of up to $4,000 per day should they strike, the legislation states.
The union held the news conference hours after the provincial government announced it plans to bring in legislation to block the potential job action.
CUPE has said they will explore every avenue to fight the bill, but the government said it intends to use the notwithstanding clause to keep the eventual law in force despite any constitutional challenges.
Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the union's decision to proceed with striking "unacceptable."
"The government has been left with no choice but to take immediate action today," Lecce said, indicating the union rejected its latest offer, adding he believes the legislation is in fact constitutional.
WATCH: 'I will not accept for one day a strike': Stephen Lecce
The government had been offering raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others. Lecce said the new 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 the union has been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent.
"The government is going to pass the bill. We're going to move forward," said Lecce.
The education minister said its move was not a blanket approach, saying it will continue to negotiate with other education unions.
Unclear how long protest could go on
As for whether the job action will run longer than one day, union officials said that remains to be seen.
The union also said it will come up with financial support for any consequences that workers might face for protesting in the face of the legislation.
On Sunday, education workers represented by CUPE gave the required five days' notice for job action, positioning its members — including educational assistants, custodians and early childhood educators, but not teachers — to go on full strike as early as Friday.
Several Ontario school boards have said they will shut down schools if support staff withdraw their services.
The government and education workers returned to the bargaining table Sunday afternoon but there doesn't appear to have been any progress since.
Union officials said the province's offer put forward Sunday would have provided only a nickel more for each worker, giving the union an ultimatum. Instead of the government holding a negotiation, officials said they learned the government intended to legislate against a strike if the union didn't acquiesce.
"If Stephen Lecce cared about kids, he wouldn't have handed $200 to parents," said CUPE member Laura Walton, dressed in a Rosie the Riveter Halloween costume — a choice she said was intended to send a message.
Still, she said, "negotiations aren't done."
ETFO walks away from bargaining Monday
Meanwhile, in a news release Monday, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said it "unequivocally" condemned the Ford government's move.
The union representing some 83,000 Ontario elementary teachers said it ended its own negotiations with the government for Monday because it could not "in good conscience, sit across the table from the government," ETFO President Karen Brown said.
"ETFO stands with CUPE members and their right to strike for better pay and working conditions, and not with a regressive government that is cloaking anti-labour legislation as being pro-education," said Brown.
The Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) also issued a statement, calling the proposed legislation "heavy-handed," "effectively undermining and disrupting their rights to free and fair collective bargaining."
The union, which represents more than 60,000 members across Ontario says it "stands in solidarity" with CUPE's members, but that its focus remains on its own negotiations with the province.
"We continue to call on the Ford government to work within a fair process that respects and upholds all workers' Charter rights, and to invest in public education and negotiate a fair deal," OSSTF President Karen Littlewood said.
With files from The Canadian Press